The App Association (ACT) says its goal is to support small developers, but in fact it is mostly funded by Apple. The latest report provides insight into how the company shapes the group’s goals and pushes its own agenda behind the scenes.

What is the App Association?

Founded in 1998, ACT currently represents over 5,000 app developers in the US and 27 European countries.

It positions itself as a group that helps developers protect their IP rights, maintain competition in the mobile market, and control the government’s involvement in the sector.

“We provide resources and tools to help app makers understand the rules, regulations, and best practices that are critical to secure success and consumer confidence,” a description on the official website reads.

The App Association participates in industry conferences, sponsors hackathons, and holds special meetings to help developers engage with government officials.

Apple is not a member of ACT, but it is one of the organization’s official sponsors, along with Intel, AT&T, Verizon, and Verisign.

How much money does Apple pay ACT?

According to a new Bloomberg report, ACT often lobbies for laws and supports initiatives that benefit Apple (even if this agenda could hurt smaller developers that the Association is committed to protecting).

The group confirmed that more than half of its funding comes from the Cupertino-based company. As former employees told the publication, “the actual percentage is much higher.”

ACT’s contributors donated over $9 million to the organization in 2020. Apple’s annual share remains undisclosed, but it is definitely in the millions of dollars.

Is ACT really pro-Apple?

Florian Mueller, market analyst and antitrust activist, wrote on his FOSS Patents blog that ACT doesn’t represent “actual app developers.” He called the organization the “App(le) Association”, claiming that it gains support only from big service providers and other pro-Apple lobbyists.

The group’s representatives deny Apple’s direct involvement in its activities. However, its connection to the company seems to be quite strong.

For example, ACT executive director Chelsea Thomas is a former lobbyist on Apple’s government affairs team. As reported by Bloomberg, the group also regularly testifies in Congress and files court briefs in defense of Apple’s agenda.

The most vivid example is the Open App Markets Act, which aims at allowing third-party payment systems on the App Store and Google Play. The bill was backed by Epic Games, but ACT argued that it would threaten the privacy of the App Store (the exact argument that Apple uses).

Earlier this year, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney called the App Association “Apple’s fake small developer lobbying group.” He criticized it for “using small app developers as human shields to defend its monopoly.”

Sweeney went on to claim that ACT often advocates for monopoly instead of supporting fair competition. “A group that were really advocating for the interests of small developers would advocate for lower fees, payment processing freedom, clearer store rules, ending self-preferencing of the store operator’s own apps, and store competition,” he wrote on Twitter.