Here’s the DOJ antitrust chief’s message to Apple shareholders

Technology

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The Justice Department’s top antitrust official said Friday that Apple shareholders should encourage the company to “compete on the merits,” one day after the government sued the iPhone maker over allegedly anticompetitive practices.

“Competition on the merits is good for everybody,” Jonathan Kanter, assistant attorney general for antitrust said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

“Good for business. Good for consumers. It’s good for the economy, and so ultimately this is what this lawsuit is about,” Kanter added.

The Justice Department on Thursday filed suit against Apple, alleging that the company used anticompetitive tactics to control the smartphone market. The suit alleges that a significant part of Apple’s ecosystem is designed to keep consumers buying iPhones, even at the cost of more innovative features.

In a statement Thursday, Apple said the suit “threatens who we are,” and would “set a dangerous precedent.”

Experts told CNBC that it could take years of litigation and that Apple is likely to seek its dismissal. But in the interim, those experts said, the larger risk to Apple and its shareholders was the distraction and scope of an antitrust lawsuit, which could potentially divert executive focus away from the business and towards fighting off the government’s claims.

Apple shares slipped around 4% Thursday, after the Justice Department announced its suit, and traded largely flat on Friday morning.

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