Apple's guides App Association direction through hefty funding

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While not a member, Apple is providing most of the funding for developer advocacy group App Association, allowing it to shape policy.

Advocacy groups and lobbying parties often make claims to sway public, judicial, and political opinion one way or another, and that has been quite evident for some news stories about the tech giants. The App Association (ACT), which aims to fight for the rights of developers, generally offers favorable opinions about Apple.

Apple is said to be the source of most of the funding of the ACT, according to four former employees speaking toBloomberg. While ACT has confirmed it receives more than half its funding from Apple, the employees claim the percentage received is a lot higher than half.

Figures from 2020 indicate that funding from all donors to ACT reached $9 million.

That funding gives Apple a lot of sway in the group, with the employees believing this provided Apple the opportunity to control the policy positions of the organization. Apple also does this without being a member of the group at all, using only funding to influence it.

Such influence may have led to proclamations that are decidedly pro-Apple. For example, in the aftermath of the Epic-Apple trial, the App Association commented that Apple wasn't a monopolist, benefits developers, and that preventing sideloading was good to block harmful software.

Despite the funding, ACT insists it isn't influenced by Apple's money. ACT executives say that policy positions are based on the opinions of its members and while it doesn't take direction from Apple, it does consider Apple's positions as well.

The extremely pro-Apple nature of ACT, including regular testimonials to Congress and court briefs, has led to criticism from others in the tech industry. This can include attempts to change laws that could affect the App Store commission Apple collects, payment policies, and other limitations.

Head of the Coalition for App Fairness Rick VanMeter said ACT was deceptive in its representation to developers, due to its relationship with Apple. "

When you pretend to be something that you're not in order to make a point, that's bad for the lawmaking process," VanMeter said.

Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, also referred to ACT in June as a fake "small developer lobby" that used "small app developers as human shields to defend [Apple's] monopoly." To Sweeney, ACT is a "Pure, shameless deception by a multi trillion dollar corporation."

The Coalition for App Fairness is a group that formed to combat Apple's policies, and has supported Epic Games in its App Store fight against Apple. However, an email during the lawsuit revealed Epic planned to spend up to $700,000 over the life of the Coalition as well as intended to exert a high level of control over policies. That was apparently dropped in favor of a more member-democratic organizational effort.

In defense, ACT president Morgan Reid said the accusations that ACT is a front for Apple "doesn't pass the laugh test" at all.

"Our job is to make sure we're paying attention to the way that government can have an impact, unintended or otherwise, on all of those small businesses making cool software products," Reid said.