Apple: the New Microsoft?

The potential anti-trust probe into Apple's business practices bears a similarity to the investigation that ultimately led to the U.S. Justice Department's anti-trust suit against Microsoft last decade. Does this mean Apple is becoming the new Microsoft?

The Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Justice Department are both believed to be looking into investigating Apple for anti-trust violations when it banned competitors' development tools for being used to create iPhone and iPad software.

The two agencies are said to be wrangling over which agency would get to investigate, according to several reports, including in the New York Post and Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal also reports that the Federal Trade Commission may be looking into whether Apple is unfairly blocking the ability of mobile ad networks to compete with its own new iAd ad network. The newspaper notes:

"Apple's new language forbidding apps from transmitting analytical data could prevent ad networks from being able to effectively target ads, potentially giving Apple's new iAd mobile-advertising service an edge, executives at ad networks say.

"One wireless-advertising executive said he was contacted a few weeks ago by an official from the FTC who wanted to talk about how the mobile-ad industry works, the Apple developer agreement and how it could affect the executive's business."

Back in the 1990s, in an anti-trust suit launched by the U.S. Justice Department, Microsoft was prosecuted for using its market dominance to unfairly harm competitors. That's exactly what some people charge Apple is doing, by not allowing developers to use non-Apple tools to develop apps for the iPad and iPhone.

David Balto, a former FTC official now at the Center for American Progress, put it succinctly to the Wall Street Journal:

"Apple is playing right out of Microsoft's playbook --- and it's one they complained about a lot."

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