UK CMA slams Google and Apple for control of mobile internet

Apple’s Safari tabs just didn’t hit the mark

Yet further regulatory activity against Apple has been announced in the UK, where the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is considering a market investigation into Apple and Google’s market power in mobile browsers. and Apple’s restrictions on cloud gaming through its App Store. It is also taking enforcement action against Google over its payment practices on the App Store.

What the regulator thinks

Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of CMA, said: “When it comes to how people use mobile phones, Apple and Google hold all the cards. As good as many of their services and products are, their strong grip on mobile ecosystems allows them to shut out competitors, holding back the UK tech sector and limiting choice.

“We all rely on browsers to use the internet on our phones, and the engines that run them have a huge bearing on what we can see and do. Right now the choice in this space is very limited and that has real impacts – preventing innovation and reducing competition from web applications.We need to give innovative technology companies, many of which are ambitious start-ups, a fair chance to compete.

“We have always been clear that we will maximize the use of our current tools pending legislation for the new digital regime. Today’s announcements – alongside the 8 cases currently open against major players in the tech industry, from fighting fake reviews to solving online advertising problems – are proof of this in action.

What is happening?

CMA has embarked on a year-long study of enterprise mobile ecosystems. The study found that Apple and Google have an effective duopoly on mobile ecosystems that allows them to exert a stranglehold on these markets, which include operating systems, app stores and web browsers on devices. mobiles. The CMA argues that intervention is needed to loosen this grip and the study has identified some, but the regulator is currently consulting on creating a market survey benchmark on mobile browsers and access to games. in the cloud on mobile devices.

The argument is that 97% of all mobile web browsing in the UK in 2021 happens on browsers powered by Apple’s or Google’s browser engine. Apple does not allow alternatives to its own browser engine on its mobile devices, which the AMC says limits the potential of rival developers and hampers Apple’s incentive to invest in Safari. (To me, the latter seems like an odd argument given that the company continues to invest in new Safari technologies, but I digress).

What Apple says

In a statement provided to The GuardianApple said it believes in “thriving and competitive markets” and disagreed with a number of findings in the report that accompanied the CMA’s statement.

“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 security are always protected.”

The criticism continues

The AMC also claims that Apple’s refusal to support alternative browser engines “seriously inhibits” the capability of web applications. The regulator also questions whether mobile devices come with Google’s Chrome or Apple’s Safari pre-installed.

During its market research, the CMA heard concerns from a number of UK businesses and start-ups who said restrictions on mobile browsers and cloud gaming made it more difficult for them to innovate and be competitive in these markets.

The proposed market investigation will further assess the competition concerns identified so far in both areas and decide on appropriate action, if any. This could include issuing legally binding orders requiring changes to Apple and Google’s practices.

In parallel, the CMA is also today launching an antitrust investigation into Google’s rules governing app access to listings on its Play Store, in particular the terms Google sets for how users can make in-app payments for certain digital products.

Separately, the CMA has an ongoing antitrust investigation into Apple’s App Store Terms and Conditions, which it initiated in March 2021.

What happens next?

The consultation on the proposal to refer to the market investigation will close on July 22 at 5:00 p.m.

If an investigation is called, it must be completed within 18 months (although this can be extended). If investigators conclude there is an adverse effect on competition, the AMC can impose its own remedies on the companies.

These may include regulating how a product is sold in a particular market, what information is available to customers buying that product, and structural solutions that may require companies to sell parts of their business to improve competition. .

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