UK regulators think Google and Apple could have too much power

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Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus Vs Iphone 12 Pro (Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • The UK's Competition and Markets Authority is investigating Google and Apple over potential anticompetitive behavior.
  • The body will look into whether both companies and their effective duopoly are reducing innovation in tech.
  • It will also investigate the power both wield over developers.

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is investigating the duopoly of Google and Apple and the effects on the mobile tech market. Between Android and iOS, the Play Store and the App Store, Chrome and Safari, both companies wield control over a large swathe of tech in the UK and other markets. While this control may be organic as platforms ranging from Windows Phone to BlackBerry 10 crumbled in the past from lack of developer support, the effect remains that both companies do wield incredible power, and developers are unhappy about it.

In an announcement today, the CMA said it would investigate whether this control is "stifling" to competition across digital markets. The CMA does not directly reference higher subscription prices for apps like Spotify, Tinder, and others that rely on Apple and Google for in-app purchases, but the implication is clear.

Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, said:

Apple and Google control the major gateways through which people download apps or browse the web on their mobiles – whether they want to shop, play games, stream music, or watch TV. We're looking into whether this could be creating problems for consumers and the businesses that want to reach people through their phones.Our ongoing work into big tech has already uncovered some worrying trends and we know consumers and businesses could be harmed if they go unchecked. That's why we're pressing on with launching this study now, while we are setting up the new Digital Markets Unit, so we can hit the ground running by using the results of this work to shape future plans.

An adjacent part of this investigation is diving into Chrome's Privacy Sandbox and Apple's own efforts in this area. Apple and Google have recently pivoted towards more privacy-focused features in the past couple of months in response to consumer demand. However, this has manifested in a way that involves more power being handed over to both firms as they mediate over open standards such as the email and the web.

For example, when it comes to Google's Privacy Sandbox, James Rosewell over at Marketers for the Open Web says:

The Privacy Sandbox would effectively create a Google-owned walled garden that would close down the competitive, vibrant open web. Providing more directly identifiable, personal information to Google does not protect anyone's privacy.

Or, we can look at iOS 15's continued push for privacy, or leadership as Apple calls it. Owen Williams over at OneZero argues that "Apple [is] moving toward a world where the only acceptable business model is the company's: building apps that monetize through platforms owned by Apple."

It's scenarios like that where platforms, no matter how well-meaning, end up dictating the experience and business model even for creators who don't work within their framework. This is what the UK's CMA wants to delve into.

Commenting on this recent investigation, a Google spokesperson said:

Android provides people with more choice than any other mobile platform in deciding which apps they use, and enables thousands of developers and manufacturers to build successful businesses. We welcome the CMA's efforts to understand the details and differences between platforms before designing new rules.

According to Google, Android apps have generated up to £2.8 billion in revenue for UK developers, and have supported 240,000 jobs across the UK. Google has also made changes to encourage user choice, as evidenced by the recent search selection screen, as part of its concessions to regulators and rivals alike.

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Michael Allison