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Department of Justice antitrust filing against Apple said to be imminent, for the fourth consecutive year

A new report claims that the US Department of Justice is in the "late stages" of investigating Apple and a wide-ranging complaint will be filed soon, but how — or if — it will all play out isn't actually clear.

Apple has reportedly been under investigation by the Department of Justice for about four years, and to date, nothing has happened. A report on Friday afternoon claims that a filing may happen soon — or it may not.

The report, by the New York Times on Friday, citing three people familiar with the matter, say that a case may be filed as soon as the first half of this year. This "case filing soon" refrain has been common across similar reports for over five years, however.

Two of the unnamed sources say that senior leaders in the Justice Department are reviewing the investigation materials. The same sources say agency officials have met with Apple officials as recently as December as part of the investigative process.

The December meeting was likely about the tail-end of the Beeper saga, where Apple chose to limit a third party's access to iMessage servers. Ultimately, Beeper took one final action to provide as much bridged access as possible but took no further action.

The report on Friday even claims an imminent filing some escape room.

"No final decision has been made about whether a lawsuit should be filed or what it should include, and Apple has not had a final meeting with the Justice Department in which it can make its case to the government before a lawsuit is filed," the report says.

The report also says that if the Department of Justice decides to take action, it will be determined after it sees how Apple responds to European Union regulations and mandates. So far, it has already complied with the USB-C universal charger mandate, and a deadline for allowing third-party App Stores is approaching in 2024.

Four and a half years of imminent anti-trust action

It's unclear why this report is different than the last several times decisive action by the Department of Justice was said to happen soon.

In early 2023, it was claimed that the Justice Department was drafting an antitrust complaint against Apple. That complaint was reportedly about anti-competitive behavior by as it pertained to the App Store.

In August 2022, a complaint was said to be focused on complaints from tracker manufacturer Tile. That, too, has appeared to go nowhere as of yet, despite sources at the time saying that Department of Justice action was imminent.

Going back to 2021, the Department of Justice was examining how Apple was treating the Roblox developers. The complaint there was similar to Epic's and Apple's commission on in-app purchases and the inability to spin up a third-party App Store. This complaint was also said to be nearing completion, at this point, more than two years ago.

In June 2020, Department of Justice members and a coalition of state attorneys general spoke to several companies who believed Apple engages in anti-competitive behavior. It's unclear where that particular matter went or if it will be folded into a different complaint.

The originating event for this entire saga was in 2019. In October of 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee had asked Spotify to provide information on Apple's alleged anti-competitive behavior, and specifically how it pertains to Spotify's business. Spotify had alleged that Apple "gives themselves unfair advantages at every turn."