FTC and DOJ Investigating Beeper iMessage Controversy

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The United States Department of Justice (DoJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have become interested in Apple’s allegedly anti-competitive practices related to its iMessage service, as the Cupertino firm battles to prevent Android app Beeper Mini from allowing Android users to access the service and get to use the coveted “blue bubbles” and other iMessage features when texting with iOS users.

The New York Times reports:

Since it was introduced on Dec. 5, Beeper Mini has quickly become a headache and potential antitrust problem for Apple. It has poked a hole in Apple’s messaging system, while critics say it has demonstrated how Apple bullies potential competitors.

Beeper Mini was originally launched in early December, promising to provide Android users with a complete iMessage experience. The developers pulled off the feat by reverse-engineering iMessage, figuring out a way to register Android users’ phone numbers with the Apple iMessage servers.

The app did indeed bring the “blue bubbles” to iPhone/Android text conversations. In addition to the blue bubbles, the app also allowed users to make use of other iMessage features, including read receipts, reactions, typing indicators, and more. However, it didn’t take long for Apple to put a stop to it.

Three days after the Beeper Mini launch, the app no longer worked. Apple had shut down the loophole it was using to access Apple’s iMessage servers.

Since then, Beeper Mini developers have tried a few times to get the app working again, and Apple has blocked their attempts each time. The latest by the app’s developers involved requiring users to generate their iMessage registration data with the help of a jailbroken iPhone.

To accomplish this, Beeper users would somehow need to gain access to a jailbroken iPhone on which they can install a free Beeper tool. The tool generates an iMessage registration code that will reinstate the ability to register the user’s phone number on the Apple-owned service. The jailbroken iPhone must then be kept plugged into power and remain connected to Wi-Fi for periodic registration re-requests.

Beeper developers say they will make available iPhone “rentals” to complete the registration process in the new year if enough users show interest.

The United States Department of Justice (DoJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are stepping up their investigations into alleged anti-competitive practices on Apple’s part, following its blocking of the Beeper Mini app.

A bipartisan group of senators has called for the DoJ to investigate the matter, and Beeper founder Eric Migicovsky reportedly met with antitrust lawyers from the DoJ on December 12. The DoJ is currently conducting a four-year-long antitrust investigation into Apple’s alleged anticompetitive actions.

The Times report also indicates that the FTC is also investigating, per a commission blog post from Thursday which warned that it will evaluate “claims of privacy and data security that implicate competition:”

In the face of concerns about anticompetitive conduct, companies may claim privacy and security reasons as justifications for refusing to have their products and services interoperate with other companies’ products and services. As an agency that enforces both competition and consumer protection laws, the Commission is uniquely situated to evaluate claims of privacy and data security that implicate competition.

While Apple continues to defend its actions as being made to maintain user security, as well as the integrity of its services, it appears that it will continue to face increased attention from regulatory bodies, at least for the foreseeable future.

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