You may recall an adage that cautions about planting seeds of discontent. You reap what you sow.
The Verge reported Tuesday that a pair of smartphone app developers are seeking class action status to sue Apple (AAPL - Get Report) . They claim the Cupertino-based company maintains an improper monopoly over iPhone apps.
It's part of a growing trend of legal complaints against Apple. It bears watching carefully.
For the better part of two years, Tim Cook, Apple's globe-trotting chief executive officer, has been making the case that big technology companies should be regulated. Of course, at the time, he meant businesses other than Apple.
Cook has become a privacy evangelist of sorts. Companies like Facebook (FB - Get Report) and Alphabet (GOOGL - Get Report) he contends, are weaponizing surveillance by building advertising software that tracks users across the web, and thanks to the sensors inside iPhones and Androids, in the physical world, too.
That data, combined with text messages and phone calls, is especially valuable. Unfortunately, Apple's real track record is not great.
When given the opportunity to protect sensitive user data outside of the United States, the company has repeatedly erred on the side of selling more iPhones.
When the Chinese state government demanded that Apple store the iCloud security keys locally, company managers consented, making actual surveillance of Chinese iPhone customers much easier. And a similar process is quietly unfolding in Russia, according to a report from Foreign Policy.
Despite this, Cook and company continue to play to user fears.
By conflating internet advertising with lost privacy, Cook has successfully weaponized the debate. He's cleverly positioned Apple as a protector of consumers, arguing that its product is expensive iPhones, Macs and iPads, not sensitive user data.
It's a compelling argument, by design. So it must be somewhat of a shock in Cupertino that the company is now a target of app developers, government regulators and U.S. presidential hopefuls.
Code writers and regulators complain Apple is leveraging its control over the App Store to the detriment of consumers.
There is no way to get third party software onto iPhones without the Cupertino stamp of approval. Every app is relentlessly reviewed, and when they do get the OK, Apple demands as much as a 30% cut of most revenues, off the top.
Apple managers argue the review process benefits all iPhone users. It prevents malware and promotes a better user experience through more polished applications.
However, last month the Supreme Court rejected an argument from Apple lawyers trying to squash another case claiming the App Store was an illegal monopoly.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a legal scholar and Democrat candidate for president, has made the augment that Apple should either forfeit the App Store, or not build apps that compete with developers. She contends that the 30% fee amounts to a punitive tax for developers, and gives Apple an unfair advantage.
New York Magazine reported in March that Spotify managers filed a formal complaint with the European Union, alleging Apple was acting as both a streaming music player and the referee. Cupertino takes advantages of the platform, and penalizes competitors with a different set of rules.
Apple Music, for example, is the default streaming option for iPhones. This selection can't be changed, even for Spotify customers. Also, software engineers are denied access to iPhone APIs for the delivery of podcasts, and the ability to send push notifications offering savings.
And the advantages are certain to grow with "Sign in With Apple," a new privacy-oriented one -step sign-in button. In theory, SWA, like the Facebook, Google and Twitter buttons that have become ubiquitous across the web, will let users log in to websites without providing an email address and other credentials.
The kicker is Apple plans to make this button mandatory for third party App Store developers, like Spotify. As Ben Thompson, an analyst at Stratechery points out, that means SWA is probably coming to websites and even Android apps.
Say what you want, that seems like a monopolistic move to me.
I haven't been a fan of Apple shares for some time. I believe its transition to services is more style than substance. It's hard for me to imagine its upcoming video streaming service seriously competing with Netflix (NFLX - Get Report) , let alone the Disney (DIS - Get Report) streaming behemoth coming later this year.
And app developers like Spotify already have a legitimate gripe with App Store limitations. SWA may be a bridge too far. By comparison, Google lets Android users change the default settings for maps, search, browsers and even the camera. Google login buttons are not mandatory.
Apple shares trade at just 14.1x forward earnings and only 3.2x sales. That may seem cheap relative to other large tech companies, however, future earnings are likely to fall as the company trades high margin iPhone sales for low margins services revenues.
Apple shares are down about 14% to $180 over the last last month due largely to U.S.-China trade concerns. While the stock may rally back toward $200 in the near term, I would avoid it. Pointing regulators toward big tech may be the single worst move in the company's long history.
To learn more about Jon Markman's stock picks at the crossroads of culture and technology, check out his daily investment newsletter Strategic Advantage. To learn about Markman's practical research in the short-term timing of market indexes and commodities, check out his daily newsletter Invariant Futures.