A full investigation has been launched into Apple’s and Google’s dominance of mobile web browsers by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
Following its study into mobile ecosystems, which comprises operating systems, app stores and web browsers, the CMA determined that Apple and Google have a duopoly over these markets. Browsers are one of the most widely used apps on mobile devices and a 2021 study found that 97% of mobile web browsing activity occurs on browsers powered by Apple or Google. The CMA is also concerned about Apple’s market position and developer controls blocking the emergence of cloud gaming services, preventing high quality games being streamed, rather than individually downloaded.
The CMA has concluded that, without its intervention, both companies would be likely to strengthen further their grip over mobile devices, thereby holding back the British tech sector and limiting consumer choice.
Both Apple and Google defended the restrictions they place on developers, arguing that they are imposed for user benefit and protection. Apple’s 15-page response to the consultation stated: “[Our] approach provides users with a valuable choice, centred on security, privacy and performance, between ecosystems”. They further argued “The potential remedies under contemplation by the CMA risk removing this choice and thus actively restricting competition at an ecosystem level… Any action that would result in such a loss of consumer choice and competition should be avoided”. Google’s 10-page response stated “We’re committed to building thriving, open platforms that empower consumers and help developers build successful businesses”. Both confirmed that they will continue to engage with the CMA.
The CMA’s investigation continues and will conclude within 18 months. If it identifies features with an “adverse effect on competition”, the CMA has the power to suggest appropriate legislation and may choose to impose corrective remedies on platform operators.
The investigation sits within the wider context of scrutiny of competition in digital markets. The UK Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, confirmed in his Autumn Statement that the government will present a draft of the Digital Markets Competition & Consumers Bill before May 2023, to help combat Big Tech’s anti-competitive abuses. These new measures will address the issues raised by the CMA in relation to Apple and Google and provide new powers to regulators as early as October next year.