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Tim Cook got roasted on the witness stand, but not by Epic’s lawyers

May 24, 2021, 2:30 PM UTC

It took talented lawyers to craft the intricate and complicated antitrust arguments that were batted around a federal courtroom in Oakland for the past few weeks in the case of Epic Games v Apple. But it required a truly great one to cut to the chase.

As expected, Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stand on Friday and his testimony did not disappoint. But it wasn’t Epic’s lawyer that got Cook reeling over the crux of the case. It was District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers.

Under direct questioning from his own legal team, Cook expounded on the many benefits of Apple’s app store to protect customers’ privacy and security while offering developers a grand opportunity to make a living. “For us, the customer is everything,” Cook said. At another point, he called the app store “an economic miracle.”

Things got a little less comfortable for Cook under cross-examination. One credibility-frying moment came when Cook was asked how much Google pays to be the default search engine on iOS, a number Justice Department lawyers have pegged at more than $10 billion a year. Cook didn’t plead ignorance. He said he couldn’t remember the exact figure! Is it over $10 billion? “I don’t know,” Cook responded.

Cook also tried to claim that he didn’t know how profitable the app store was for Apple, despite emails with his CFO discussing, you know, how profitable the app store was. Tim Apple, champion of user privacy, also pleaded ignorance when it came to his company’s user-tracker for advertising. “Yeah, I’m not familiar,” he replied.

By day’s end, Judge Gonzalez Rogers had a few questions for Cook. (The Verge printed the full exchange.) She focused first on Apple’s rule that developers can’t even tell users that they could pay less by going to a web site instead of paying through the app store.

“What is the problem with allowing users to have choice—especially in gaming content—to find, to having cheaper options?” the judge asked.

“I think they have a choice today,” Cook answered. “They have a choice between many different Android models of a smartphone or an iPhone.”

(You may notice Cook’s reply has nothing to do with choice of payments within the app store.)

The judge also honed in a couple of times on whether Apple faces competition or feels competitive pressure in running the app store. At one point, she even argued that Apple’s recent decision to cut its commission on app sales from smaller developers “really wasn’t the result of competition. That seemed to be a result of the pressure that you’re feeling from investigations, from lawsuits, not competition.”

Cook had no good answers, reduced to citing that Google had cut its app store commissions after (!) Apple did. “I understand perhaps that when Google changed its price, but your action wasn’t the result of competition,” the judge retorted.

The conventional wisdom coming into the trial was that Epic had no chance of laying a glove on the iPhone champ. Now it appears the feisty underdog has landed a few punches. Final arguments come this week and we’ll have to wait a few months most likely for a verdict, which will probably be appealed instantaneously.


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Aaron Pressman
@ampressman
aaron.pressman@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

'Tis better to have clicked and lost than never to have clicked at all. There was an even dumber answer from a top Apple exec last week than Cook's responses to Judge Gonzalez Rogers. Apple VP Tim Twerdahl was asked why Apple's new TV remote didn't have the capability to be wirelessly located if lost like AirTags. Well, by "making it a bit thicker so it won’t fall in your couch cushions as much, that need to have all these other network devices find it seems a little bit lower," he said. Translation: It's not as horribly easy to lose as our prior, horrible remote.

Open the HomePod doors, Hal. There was also a bit of a kerfuffle last week when Apple announced that its new higher-quality music streaming feature would not work on its expensive HomePod smart speaker. But over the weekend, Apple said it would be able to update the software on the HomePod to support its upcoming lossless audio format. Now if only most human ears could hear the difference.

All you need is vax. There are many ways to convince reluctant citizens to get the COVID-19 vaccine, so why not hook-ups? At a White House press briefing on Friday, the Biden administration touted an initiative to encourage dating apps including Bumble, Tinder, Hinge, Match, OkCupid, BLK, Chispa, Plenty of Fish, and Badoo to create showy vaccinations badges and let users filter potential dates by vaccination status. And you thought smart was the new sexy?

Choose your own misadventure. Have you watched any of the interactive movie "experiences" on Netflix like Bandersnatch? Apparently it's becoming a thing, as Netflix is trying to recruit experienced video game industry execs. "We’re excited to do more with interactive entertainment," the company told Polygon, effectively denying that it was seeking to get into the broader video gaming market.

Bitcoin late than never. Greenpeace, the group that has taken to land, sea, and air across the globe, risking life, limb, and property to protect the environment was accepting donations in the coal-burning hellstream known as bitcoin for the past seven years. But no more. "As the amount of energy needed to run Bitcoin became clearer, this policy became no longer tenable," the group said in a statement announcing the change. Perhaps seeking the award for weaseliest PR statement of 2021, the group also blamed a third-party processor and claimed Greenpeace never received a significant number of bitcoin donations.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Links are the currency of the web, one of the greatest inventions for increasing knowledge, and certainly a core feature of this newsletter on a daily basis. They're also one of the most fragile components of the entire Internet, as web sites change addresses or disappear altogether. A new Harvard study written up in the Columbia Journalism Review by John Bowers, Clare Stanton, and Jonathan Zittrain found a disastrous amount of what's come to be called "link rot." They examined every link published in the New York Times from 1996 through 2019.

We found that of the 553,693 articles within the purview of our study––meaning they included URLs on nytimes.com––there were a total of 2,283,445 hyperlinks pointing to content outside of nytimes.com. Seventy-two percent of those were “deep links” with a path to a specific page, such as example.com/article, which is where we focused our analysis (as opposed to simply example.com, which composed the rest of the data set).

Of these deep links, 25 percent of all links were completely inaccessible. Linkrot became more common over time: 6 percent of links from 2018 had rotted, as compared to 43 percent of links from 2008 and 72 percent of links from 1998. Fifty-three percent of all articles that contained deep links had at least one rotted link.

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BEFORE YOU GO

There are card tricks and then there are card tricks. The 94-year-old British magician David Berglas has one of the very best, seemingly making a card selected by a member of the audience appear at the exact position within a deck that the audience member requested. And somehow the correct card appears at the correct position without Berglas touching the deck. New York Times reporter David Segal met up with Berglas recently and the magician did not disappoint.

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