Al Franken may have traded in his tie-dye shirts for suits, but at his core he’s a Dead Head.
“I don’t use Apple Music. I tend to be kind of archaic in this area and listen a lot to the Grateful Dead,” the senator said before heartily laughing at himself.
He may not use it, but he isn’t afraid to challenge what he considers Apple’s monopolistic practices.
Think of him like an older, be-speckled, male Taylor Swift—willing to challenge the tech giant even as most of his colleagues in the Senate have their lips firmly planted on the backside of that apple logo.
Franken has asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether Apple is unfairly shaking down its competitors.
Even though Franken isn’t getting his music fix from Apple’s new iTunes app, he learned from young staffers and tech publications that subscribers of other music apps pay a 30 percent premium to Apple if they purchase, say, Spotify from an iPhone or iPad.
Not only that, Apple makes the smaller music services sign agreements to keep their fans in the dark on the extra cost incurred from going through Apple devices, according to Franken.
That means a $9.99 subscription of Tidal, Spotify, Rdio, or Rhapsody costs you a cool $12.99 if you buy it on an iPhone. They also charge that 30 percent premium for books, magazines and newspapers bought through their app.
The 30 percent off the top is likely to drive users in this competitive field to Apple Music, but Franken thinks it may not be legal.
“I am concerned about competition and antitrust and making sure that consumers have choices of better products and lower prices and this has raised some concerns for me that I’d asked the FTC to be aware of and to look at more than anything,” Franken said.
The music and tech communities are divided on the issue, which Franken has found out since penning the letter.
“It’s a bit of a mix bag, yeah,” Franken said of the outpouring of responses his office has received. “Kind of heard from tech people who have different opinions, so I'm kind of sorting through those now.”
While Franken seems to be the only lawmaker in Washington calling for an investigation, The Verve is reporting Franken is late to the game. They report the FTC is already looking into Apple’s practices and has already serviced the tech giant with subpoenas.
Apple didn’t return a request for comment. Franken said they also haven’t gotten in touch with him. Still, the senator isn’t totally convinced Apple is guilty, but that’s why he’s calling for the nation’s top lawyers to investigate the company’s practices.
“This happens, sometimes you ask questions about something like this and you find that you’re really going down the right path,” Franken said. “And sometimes you find ‘Oh, this is more complicated than we thought.’”
Enough about antitrust laws; let’s get back to Taylor Swift.
While the senator’s direct challenge of Apple Music is reminiscent of Swift taking on the company earlier this summer, he wasn’t really aware of the dustup.
“That was off my radar,” he said before bowing down to the princess of pop in a nod to young voters back home. “You know I’ve liked some of her songs, just don’t know her body of work as well as I probably should.”
After transcribing my interview with Franken, my summer intern, Melissa Rutter, weighed in on the senator’s contemporary music knowledge with this: “We should send him a T-Swift mix tape CD haha.”
We made it. Enjoy.
A Lawmakers Guide to Taylor Swift
1. Bad Blood ft. Kendrick Lamar (1989)
4. 22 (Red)
10. Style (1989)