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UK watchdog seeks to make mobile browsers competitive • The Register


Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said on Friday it intended to launch an investigation into the market power of Apple and Google in relation to mobile browsers and cloud gaming. , and to take enforcement action against Google for its payment practices in the App Store.

“When it comes to how people use mobile phones, Apple and Google hold all the cards,” CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said in A declaration. “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.”

The decision to open a formal investigation follows the CMA’s year-long study of the mobile ecosystem. The competition watchdog’s findings were published in a report that concludes that Apple and Google have a duopoly that limits competition.

“We found that Apple and Google have substantial and entrenched market power in mobile operating systems, as effective competition between the two is limited and rivals face significant barriers to entry and expansion,” said the final report [PDF] said.

This is the third Google-focused survey conducted by the CMA this year. In March, the CMA and the EU announced an investigation by Google and Meta (Facebook) into an alleged advertising collusion called Jedi Blue. And the AMC said it was also reviewing Google’s ad technology last month.

In March 2021, the CMA opened an antitrust investigation into the terms and conditions governing Apple’s App Store.

In March 2022, while the CMA was still accepting input from tech companies on how it should proceed, Apple urged the UK regulator to look beyond the “often self-serving complaints from a limited number of the biggest market players “, as Apple law firm Gibson Dunn put it.

Google also argued that the status quo works well [PDF] while challenging some of the CMA’s conclusions. Asked to comment, a Google spokesperson said the company is reviewing the final report and will continue to engage with the CMA – as if the alternative, ignoring authorities until they kick down the doors, was an option. viable.

“Android phones give people and businesses more choice than any other mobile platform. Google Play has been the launch pad for millions of apps, helping developers build global businesses that support a quarter of a million people. ‘jobs in the UK alone,’ a Google spokesperson said. “We regularly review how best to support developers and have responded quickly to CMA feedback in the past.”

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

Set the limits

Earlier this year, the UK delayed defining the statutory powers of the Digital Markets Unit, which was created within the CMA last year to oversee big tech. This leaves it to the CMA to pursue these matters to the extent permitted by its own powers, at least until the role of the DMU has been defined.

The investigations into Apple and Google in the UK coincide with numerous competition investigations by other countries, as well as legislation and lawsuits. South Korea has required Apple and Google to allow third-party in-app payment providers. The Netherlands has taken similar steps specifically for dating apps. Japan’s Fair Trade Commission forced Apple to allow reader apps to accept payments outside the App Store and last year began looking into anti-competitive behavior in the mobile ecosystem, focusing on Apple and Google.

Various bills that would regulate Apple and Google, among others, are being considered by US lawmakers, and the Justice Department is pursuing an antitrust case against Google over its advertising business, as are a number of US state attorneys general.

The EU’s Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act contain new rules designed to promote competition, such as the rejection of Apple’s iOS requirement that all mobile browsers in its App Store must be based on the company’s WebKit engine.

The UK’s CMA has also expressed interest in resolving competition issues related to web technology, in particular the unfairness of private browser APIs, the diversity of browser engines and the guarantee that web applications can implements the same functionality as native apps.

“There are good reasons to demand a level playing field between Apple’s browser (Safari) and third-party browser apps, whether or not the WebKit restriction is removed,” the final report says. “So we would expect there to be comparable API access between Safari and other browsers using WebKit.”

“There are also strong general arguments for leveling the playing field between feature availability for native app developers and web app developers. Following the removal of the WebKit restriction, competition may contribute to enforce standards on iOS, but there may continue to be some functionality that would continue to be restricted in iOS or Android, and in some cases there may be good reason to require parity with native app processing.”

In a blog postTom Smith, a solicitor at Geradin Partners, a London and Brussels-based competition law firm, says CMA seems to have made a good choice in focusing on narrow aspects of the mobile ecosystem rather than trying to rewrite app store rules in once.

“On the face of it, it seems browsers and cloud gaming are a smart choice for intervention,” Smith said. “These are areas where the CMA can add value because they have not been the subject of extensive international scrutiny, and the CMA clearly has targeted remedies in mind that it thinks to be able to impose successfully.”

The Japanese authorities, in the recent summary of the interim report on the competition assessment of the mobile ecosystem, are also considering abolishing restrictions on Apple’s iOS browser.

“It may be possible to introduce a rule prohibiting an operating system vendor from forcing third-party browser vendors to use a particular browser engine,” said the report [PDF] said.