The UK Competition Authority has taken steps to take a closer look at Apple and Google’s mobile duopoly by launching a detailed investigation into elements of the pair’s dominance in the mobile ecosystem, examining their approach to competing mobile browsers and cloud gaming services, which it believes could be limiting competition and harming consumers.
The move followed a market study by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). last year which led to the final report this summer which concluded that there were major competition issues as the regulator found that the tech giants had what it described as “an efficient duopoly in mobile ecosystems that allows them to maintain a stranglehold on operating systems, app stores and the web.” browsers on mobile devices.
At the same time, the CMA proposed a so-called reference market research (MIR) with two focuses: first, on the bargaining power of Apple and Google in mobile browsers; and another exploring Apple’s restrictions on cloud gaming through its App Store.
This MIR proposal kicked off a standard consultation process where the regulator sought feedback on the scope of the proposed study, and today it confirmed the decision to conduct a market study by opening a so-called “Phase 2” (in depth) investigation that could take up to 18 months.
The study will focus on the supply of mobile browsers and browser engines; and distribution of cloud gaming services through app stores on mobile devices, the CMA announced today.
AT Press release announcing the opening of an in-depth investigation, the CMA said the responses to the consultation showed “substantial” support for a fuller investigation into how Apple and Google “dominate the mobile browser market” and how “Apple restricts cloud gaming through its App Store.” “.
His PR highlights the strategic importance of mobile browsers, noting that “most” people use a mobile browser at least daily to access online content, and adding that 97% of all mobile web browsing in the UK last year was on browsers running on the Apple platform. or Google’s browser engine, which gives the pair enormous power over user experience.
In terms of cloud gaming services, the regulator is concerned that restrictions applied through mobile platforms could hinder the growth of an emerging sector, leading to what it calls UK gamers “missing out”.
“Web developers have complained that Apple’s restrictions, combined with a perceived under-investment in their browser technology, are leading to additional costs and frustration as they have to deal with bugs and glitches while building web pages and have no choice but to build bespoke mobile apps when a website might be enough,” the press release also says.
“Ultimately, these restrictions limit choice and could make it difficult to get innovative new apps into the hands of UK consumers. At the same time, Apple and Google argue that the restrictions are needed to protect users. The CMA Market Research will address these concerns and consider whether new regulations are needed to achieve better results.”
Commenting on the statement, Sarah Cardell, interim CMA chief executive, added:
“We want to make sure UK consumers get the best new mobile data services and UK developers can invest in innovative new apps.
Many UK companies and web developers tell us they feel they are being held back by restrictions imposed by Apple and Google. When the new digital markets regime is introduced, it will likely solve problems like this. In the meantime, we use the opportunities we have to solve problems where possible. We plan to find out if the concerns we heard are justified and, if so, identify steps to improve competition and innovation in these sectors.”
If, during the investigation, the CMA identifies signs that have an “adverse effect on competition”, it may apply corrective measures directly to companies, and may also make recommendations to other public authorities (for example, industry regulators or the government), if necessary. sees the need for new legislation to counter malicious activity.
Apple and Google Respond
AT 15 page response To the advice the CMA released today, Apple is opposed to opening up MIR in both mobile browsers and cloud gaming — denying its activity on mobile browsers means restricting competition and playing off the claim that its development of the WebKit browser engine allows “keep security , privacy and device performance” and warns of “serious risks” if competing browsers are able to roll out new features without “an in-depth assessment of their security and privacy implications”.
In terms of cloud gaming, the company also denies any anti-competitive behavior, claiming that it is not preventing cloud gaming apps from appearing on the App Store, and also claims that it is not trying to block cloud gaming apps from appearing, again playing along with its stated consumer protection concerns. .
“Apple’s approach provides users with valuable security, privacy and performance-based choices across ecosystems,” the iPhone maker also wrote in a response, emphasizing that its security and privacy approach “offers consumers a clear alternative to Android.” a system that gives them a real choice in these key competitive parameters”; and an additional warning: “Potential remedies being considered by the CMA risk depriving this choice and thus actively limiting competition at the ecosystem level. Any action that could lead to such a loss of consumer choice and competition should be avoided.”
in your own 10 page response In the consultation, Google highlights Android’s “openness”, stating that its smartphone platform offers “users and businesses more choice than any other.”
It also claims that the main issues identified by the CMA at this stage are not found in its mobile ecosystem, further indicating that the restrictive behavior that the regulator is most concerned about applies to Apple’s iOS, not Android. , and thereby tries to divert the attention of regulatory authorities from its competitor. .
Google also claims that measures proposed by the CMA (such as Choice Architecture) are better suited for “iterative development and collaborative discussions” between the industry and the special CMA division that focuses on big tech (also known as the Digital Markets Division; DMU). ). It argues that such remedies are “not well suited to be considered or enforced in the context of market research”, which appears to be an attempt to prevent/delay CMA intervention (since the DMU is not yet empowered as the UK government delay in the introduction of the necessary legislation – therefore, the expectation that the Division can take on such a role of “co-design” can take years).
Offering an overview of the responses to the consultation, CMA said it received 31 (out of 43) that supported moving forward (another 6 supported, insisting on broader coverage); and only 5 against – Apple offered what it formulated as the strongest opposition.
Positive feedback included 22 web developers and software engineers, several browser vendors, and individuals and advocacy groups, he added, pointing out that “most of them were critical of Apple’s restrictions in these areas.”
“With regard to cloud gaming, the focus of this investigation will solely be the access of such services to app stores on mobile devices. As such, the investigation will not look more broadly at the cloud gaming market or the strength of competition between cloud gaming providers or gaming competition in general.”
Apple and Google have been contacted for a response to the latest CMA investigation into their business activities.
An Apple representative sent us this statement:
“Apple believes in dynamic and competitive markets where innovation can flourish. Through the App Store, we’ve helped millions of developers turn their brightest ideas into apps that will change the world, fueling an app economy that supports hundreds of thousands of jobs in the UK alone. We will continue to engage constructively with the Competition and Markets Authority to explain how our approach promotes competition and choice while ensuring that consumer privacy and safety is protected at all times.”
A Google spokesperson also made a statement:
“Android gives people more choice of apps and app stores than any other mobile platform. It also allows developers to choose their preferred browser engine and has become the launching pad for millions of applications. We are committed to building thriving open platforms that empower consumers and help developers build successful businesses.”
The CMA is already conducting an open investigation into the Apple App Store, which was opened in March 2021 — looking at the Terms and Conditions that Cupertino imposes on third-party developers seeking to distribute iOS mobile apps. This investigation is ongoing.
While in May this yearhe launched a formal investigation into the Google ad tech stack — months after ad it will investigate allegations of collusion between Google and Facebook over ad bidding (also known as the “Blue Jedi” allegations). Both of whom are also still on the train.
The CMA has also previously hosted deep study of online advertising raised many fears about competition and convinced him of the need to insist on digital competition law reform. (Although the latter is still under development under the current UK government.)
The UK competition regulator also continues to closely track Google offers for online advertising drop support for third-party tracking cookies in Chrome browser and introduce a different set of ad targeting technologies (also known as “privacy sandboxing”) – a recent intervention that is likely to help shape the core ad technology stack (meaning it could have big influence). for the future of the ad-supported Internet), even though this is likely to slow down this process of evolutionary migration, as Google has been forced, for example, to consult with industry players in greater detail to ensure that it is meeting its regulatory obligations to the CMA.
So the regulator has a growing set of investigations and other actions to remove the bargaining power of Apple and Google, and it looks like there will be more intervention in their mobile ecosystems.