Coronavirus Reporter Sues Apple For Antitrust Violations Over App Store Denial

On Tuesday, plaintiff Coronavirus Reporter filed a complaint in the District of New Hampshire against defendant Apple for antitrust violations over Apple rejecting the plaintiff’s COVID-19 app from its App Store.

According to the complaint, in February 2020 the plaintiff “formed an ad hoc group of health care and Dartmouth computer science experts to develop a smartphone application named ‘Coronavirus Reporter.’” This purportedly came as the COVID-19 pandemic was declared on February 11, 2020, and the disease made its way across the globe. The plaintiff stated that the app was finished on March 3, 2020, “at which time there was not a single Coronavirus app on the Apple iOS App Store.” The plaintiff claimed that the Coronavirus Reporter app “was developed to capture and obtain critical biostatistical and epidemiological data as it happened.” Accordingly, the app utilized a geolocation map, whereby “users would self-identify disease symptoms.”

On its website on March 14, 2020, Apple noted that it is ensuring that its App Store is “a safe and trusted place.” Apple stated that it is “evaluating apps critically to ensure data sources are reputable and that developers presenting these apps are from recognized entities.” Additionally, the plaintiff noted that Apple stated that COVID-19 apps “would only be allowed from ‘recognized institutions such as government, hospital, insurance company, NGO, or a university.’” As a result, the plaintiff’s app was rejected because it allegedly did not meet this criterion.

After the rejection, the plaintiff asked Apple to “expand the rule to allow corporations other than insurance companies, such as biotechnology or bioinformatics firms. Apple agreed, and added health care corporations to the list of permissible entities.” The plaintiff stated that it provided Apple with additional information and documentation, however, the Coronavirus Reporter app was still rejected from the App Store because Apple claimed that it “was not a recognized healthcare company” and the “user-generated data has not been vetted for accuracy by a reputable source.” Nevertheless, the plaintiff contended that Apple allowed another app that purportedly functioned similarly to the plaintiff’s app. The plaintiff also pointed to Apple’s COVID-19 contact tracing app in partnership with Google and others, which the companies stated would put privacy first by banning GPS location tracking and would instead use Bluetooth signals.

Consequently, the plaintiff has accused Apple of violating the Sherman Act for its purported monopolization of contact tracing apps and allegedly “arbitrary” denial of third-party apps, as well as for allegedly restricting trade, communication, and the free exchange of information.

The plaintiff has sought an award for damages, a permanent injunction, and other relief. The plaintiff is represented by Associated Attorneys of New England.