FTC Omission Hints at Apple Antitrust Investigation

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is denying access to nearly 200 pages of documents related to Adobe’s complaint over Apple blocking Flash-based apps for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad on the grounds that releasing them could interfere with law enforcement-related duties. That denial, according to Wired, is a red flag indicating the agency is investigating Apple for potential antitrust violations.

In response to a request for the documents under the Freedom of Information Act, Wired was told by FTC general counsel Joan A. Fina, “We have located 189 pages of responsive records, all of which are exempt from the FOIA’s disclosure requirement. These records are exempt… because disclosure of that material could reasonably be expected to interfere with the conduct of the Commission’s law enforcement activities.”

By blocking Wired from seeing the documents, the reasoning goes, the FTC is indirectly confirming that it is investigating Apple.

Word surfaced in May that the FTC may be looking into Apple’s policies that requiring all third-party iPhone, iPod touch and iPad app developers to use only approved coding tools. The rules block non-native development environments and cross-compilers that churn out apps for multiple platforms from the same code, which includes Adobe’s Flash environment.

Adobe eventually filed a complaint with the FTC after a very public spat with Apple over the policy.

Assuming the agency is investigating Apple for potential antitrust violations, and eventually sues the company, Apple could agree to a settlement that includes changes to its policy limiting iOS development tools. If so, there’s a chance Adobe’s iPhone app compiler for Flash could get a second chance at life.

Apple and Adobe aren’t talking about the potential investigation, and the FTC doesn’t confirm or deny ongoing investigations, either.