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US DOJ to sue Apple for antitrust violations, Bloomberg News reports

FILE PHOTO: The Apple logo is seen hanging at the entrance to the Apple store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan

By Ananya Mariam Rajesh

(Reuters) -The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is preparing to sue Apple as soon as Thursday for allegedly violating antitrust laws by blocking rivals from accessing hardware and software features of its iPhone, Bloomberg News reported on Wednesday.

Taking action against Big Tech has been one of the few ideas that Democrats and Republicans have agreed on. During the Trump administration, which ended in 2021, the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) opened probes into Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon.

A DOJ spokesperson and Apple did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

It is not clear what the focus of the charges would be, but makers of hardware devices, like smart-tracker maker Tile, have long complained that Apple has restricted the ways in which they can work with the iPhone's sensors while developing competing products that have greater access.

Apple began selling AirTags - which can be attached to items like car keys to help users find them when they are lost - several years after Tile had been selling a similar product.

Similarly, Apple has restricted access to a chip in the iPhone that allows for contactless payments. Credit cards can only be added to the iPhone by using Apple's own Apple Pay service.

Apple has long argued that it restricts access to some user data and some of the iPhone's hardware by third-party developers for privacy and security reasons.

The iPhone maker has also faced criticism over its iMessage service, which only works on Apple devices. Critics have complained that the company has disadvantaged messages sent to and received from Android phones by shrinking pictures and videos. Last year, Apple changed course said it will support a new messaging technology called RCS, which has been promoted by Google as a way to make messaging smoother across different types of devices.

Late in February, Bloomberg News had reported that Apple representatives met with Justice Department officials in a bid to persuade the agency not to file an antitrust suit against the iPhone maker.

A new antitrust suit against Apple would be the third by the Justice Department in the past 14 years, but it is the first case accusing the iPhone maker of illegally maintaining its dominant position, Bloomberg reported.

Apple is also in the midst of an antitrust-related tussle with "Fortnite" videogame maker Epic Games.

Earlier in the day, Meta Platforms, Microsoft, Elon Musk's X and Match Group joined Epic Games' protest that Apple has failed to honor a court-ordered injunction governing payments in its lucrative App Store.

The technology giants behind some of the most popular apps in the App Store said Apple was in "clear violation" of the Sept. 2021 injunction by making it difficult to steer consumers to cheaper means to pay for digital content.

The Justice Department has sued Alphabet's Google twice - once under Republican Donald Trump regarding its search business and a second time on advertising technology since Democratic President Joe Biden took office. The FTC sued Facebook during the Trump administration and Biden's FTC has pressed forward with the lawsuit.

Shares of Apple were down 1.5% at $175.97 in extended trading on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Ananya Mariam Rajesh in Bengaluru, Stephen Nellis in San Jose and Chris Sanders in Washington; Editing by Peter Henderson and Christopher Cushing)