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Competition regulator to investigate Apple and Google mobile ecosystem dominance

A general view of the Apple App store app on an iPad.
A general view of the Apple App store app on an iPad.

The UK’s competition regulator is planning to launch an investigation into the “effective duopoly” that Apple and Google hold over the mobile ecosystem.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it was consulting on the launch of a market investigation into the power of the two firms following its publication of a year-long study into the issue.

The CMA said it found the two companies were dominant across mobile ecosystems, which allowed them to exercise a stranglehold over some markets, including operating systems, app stores and web browsers on mobile devices.

The watchdog said it was also concerned over the dominance of Apple’s App Store, and restrictions it said it placed on cloud gaming which could be stifling competition.

The CMA said that without interventions, both Apple and Google were likely to maintain or even strengthen their grip on the sector, which it said could further restrict competition and limit incentives for others.

The announcement is the latest in a string of regulator investigations into the market dominance of the tech giants.

Concerns have been previously been raised about the level of control Apple and Google are able to exercise over the apps that appear on their respective app stores and ultimately on their popular mobile devices.

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

“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 British tech sector and limiting choice.

“We all rely on browsers to use the internet on our phones, and the engines that make them work have a huge bearing on what we can see and do.

“Right now, choice in this space is severely limited and that has real impacts – preventing innovation and reducing competition from web apps.

“We need to give innovative tech firms, many of which are ambitious start-ups, a fair chance to compete.

“We have always been clear that we will maximise the use of our current tools while we await legislation for the new digital regime.

“Today’s announcements – alongside the eight cases currently open against major players in the tech industry, ranging from tackling fake reviews to addressing problems in online advertising – are proof of that in action.”

In response, an Apple statement said: “We believe in thriving and competitive markets where innovation can flourish. Through the Apple ecosystem we have created a safe and trusted experience users love and a great business opportunity for developers.

In the UK alone, the iOS app economy supports hundreds of thousands of jobs and makes it possible for developers big and small to reach customers around the world.

“We respectfully disagree with a number of conclusions reached in the report, which discount our investments in innovation, privacy and user performance — all of which contribute to why users love iPhone and iPad and create a level playing field for small developers to compete on a trusted platform.

“We will continue to engage constructively with the Competition and Markets Authority to explain how our approach promotes competition and choice, while ensuring consumers’ privacy and security are always protected.”

A Google spokesperson said: “Android phones offer people and businesses more choice than any other mobile platform.

“Google Play has been the launchpad for millions of apps, helping developers create global businesses that support a quarter of a million jobs in the UK alone.

“We regularly review how we can best support developers and have reacted quickly to CMA feedback in the past. We will review the report and continue to engage with the CMA.”

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