Law360 (January 20, 2021, 10:08 PM EST) -- Apple used trumped-up excuses to keep coronavirus tracking applications out of the App Store in order to ensure the tech giant wouldn't have any competition when it launched its own version of a COVID-19 tracker, according to a new lawsuit.
There was "no good reason" for Apple to block Coronavirus Reporter from being made available in its App Store in March, just as the virus was beginning its deadly march across the country — except that Apple knew it had its own application in the pipeline, a New Hampshire federal court was told Tuesday.
In doing so, the suit claims, Apple "den[ied] millions of citizens the benefit of communicating in a pandemic emergency using an app designed by a world-renowned physician."
"In other words, the Apple App Store violates antitrust law by disallowing third-party applications using arbitrary and capricious standards meant to camouflage Apple's own self-interest and growth of their monopolistic trust," the suit claims.
Essentially, the suit claims that because so many people rely on Apple's iOS operating system, the tech behemoth holds a "de facto monopoly" on accessing the internet.
So Apple kiboshed Coronavirus Reporter's hopes of widespread success, according to the suit, when it blocked it from the App Store because it didn't trust the app's self-reported model and didn't recognize Coronavirus Reporter as a legitimate health care company.
This was after the application petitioned Apple to change a rule that only allowed coronavirus-related applications from "recognized institutions such as government, hospital, insurance company, NGO, or a university" so that health care companies were also included, the suit claims.
"The public can choose which app authors they wish to use, and it is more than evident that plaintiff's app, at a time when no other COVID apps existed, would have been downloaded by millions," the suit says. "Here, Apple unlawfully put its thumb on the scales, destroying any chance that Coronavirus Reporter had to participate in the open and free information exchange afforded by the internet."
To bolster that point, the suit points toward an application developed by a London teaching hospital that "functioned nearly identically to Coronavirus Reporter." Shortly after Coronavirus Reporter was rejected, Apple agreed to host the hospital app, essentially giving it a "so-called first player advantage."
It's still used by 5 million people each day, the suit claims.
Even if it is allowed into the App Store now, Coronavirus Reporter says its effectiveness is hamstrung because contact-tracing applications are generally only useful once they obtain a "critical mass of users," and it's already behind.
Apple unveiled its venture into contact tracing this April but the application — formed as part of a partnership with Google — wasn't rolled out until the summer. According to Coronavirus Reporter, it "underperformed expectations and failed to obtain a user base in the United States."
As recompense, Coronavirus Reporter wants the New Hampshire federal court to block Apple "from restricting reasonable applications from access to the global internet" and award an unspecified amount of damages.
Representatives for the parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Coronavirus Reporter is represented by Keith Mathews of the Associated Attorneys of New England.
Counsel information for Apple was not immediately available.
The case is Coronavirus Reporter v. Apple Inc., case number 1:21-cv-00047, in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire.
--Editing by Daniel King.
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