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DOJ Targets Apple Over ‘Green Bubble’ Text Message Stigma in Antitrust Case

The US Department of Justice has specifically targeted Apple for its contribution to the well-known “green bubble” effect in text messaging, describing it as symbolic of “social stigma, exclusion and blame” within the historic antitrust lawsuit against the tech giant.

The DOJ and 16 state attorneys general sued in a New Jersey federal court to spotlight Android smartphone owners’ longstanding “green bubble” text message mocking, according to the New York Post. Some people have joked about preferring iPhone users over Android users online, which has societal ramifications.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland argues that Apple worsens the green bubble issue by restricting Android text messaging capability to iPhones, causing Android users to lose typing indications, video quality, and encryption.

The case also accuses Apple of blocking competing programs that may fix the problem, strengthening its smartphone market dominance. The complaint cites a 2022 Vox Media Code Conference conversation in which CEO Tim Cook suggested buying an iPhone instead of fixing Android-to-iPhone messaging.

Attorney General Merrick Garland Makes Antitrust Announcement At Dept. Of Justice

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice Building on March 21, 2024 in Washington, DC. During the news conference Garland and DOJ officials announced the department would be taking action against Apple, claiming that the tech company has an illegal monopoly on smartphones, violating antitrust laws. (Photo : Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Green Bubble Causes Social Division

Apple’s iMessage system dominates iPhone texting with end-to-end encryption, read receipts, typing indications, and high-quality media sharing. Users of iPhones and Androids converse using the less secure SMS protocol (green bubbles), according to TechCrunch.

The DOJ argues that this disparity creates a societal divide, especially among iPhone-using teens. Moreover,  maintaining group conversations across platforms is challenging as switching to Android or another platform requires using a third-party messaging program like WhatsApp or Telegram, because iMessage is exclusive to Apple devices.

Apple’s 2013 emails disclose conversations about expanding iMessage to Android. Craig Federighi, Apple’s SVP of Software Engineering, claimed that such a change may inspire iPhone families to switch to Android devices, while Phil Schiller, former SVP of Worldwide Marketing, said it would hurt Apple’s ecosystem.

Read Also: Chinese Tech Giants Racing to Dominate AI: Tencent and Kuaishou Push Next-Gen Language Models

The DOJ also claims Apple discriminates against iPhone third-party texting applications. Apple limits third-party applications’ ability to deliver iMessage-like communications by prohibiting functions like establishing default SMS apps. This restriction hinders messaging app innovation and competition, according to the US Justice Department.

Android users responded differently to the case, with some thanking the US Department of Justice for potentially advocating for their cause. Jeff Richards, a venture entrepreneur, said on Twitter, “Those of us with mixed family group chats would love to see equality among blue and green bubbles,” calling for messaging platform equity.

Apple Shares Drop

Some downplayed the green bubble analogy and Android users’ struggles and asserted that the DOJ’s involvement labeled Android users as a “protected class,” while others suggested that individuals with green bubbles should be avoided, per Gizmodo.

Podcaster Josh Barro joked, “If they allow iMessage on Android, then how will we tell who’s a loser?”

Apple’s shares dropped nearly 4% after the lawsuit news, wiping approximately $113 billion in market value in one day. This decline reflects rising worries about Apple’s alleged monopolistic tactics, customer choice, and price.

Apple strongly opposes the case, saying it undermines innovation and cutting-edge technology. The tech giant promises a robust response to the accusations, asserting that the case is inappropriate and could set a dangerous precedent for government intervention in technological advancement.

Related Article: Tim Cook in China: Apple CEO Attends New Shanghai Store Opening Amid iPhone Sales Dip

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