Apple and Google hurting competition? – UK gov investigates

By Elles Houweling

The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has said it will investigate whether the dominance held by Apple and Google in terms of mobile phone operating systems (OS), app stores and web browsers stifles competition and hurts consumers, in what appears to be another step to curtail the tech giants’ power.

The government announced on Tuesday that it had launched a “market study” to see whether the pair’s effective duopoly was harming users and businesses.

“The CMA is concerned this could lead to reduced innovation across the sector and consumers paying higher prices for devices and apps, or for other goods and services due to higher advertising prices,” the authority said.

The study will also examine any effects of the firms’ market power over other businesses – such as app developers – which rely on Apple or Google to market their products to customers via their phones.

Britain has set up a dedicated Digital Markets Unit (DMU) within the CMA to keep the tech giants in check and encourage digital competition.

According to Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, the ongoing probe into big tech had already uncovered some worrying trends. “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.”

The CMA said the new study into mobile ecosystems would be broader than some of the other competition probes it already has into Apple’s App Store and Google’s Privacy Sandbox.

The watchdog added that it was keen to hear directly from app developers about their experiences. A questionnaire it posted included questions about which app stores developers work with, and whether there are web-based alternatives that can offer the same experience. The investigation will last no more than a year, officials said.

The global big tech battle

Britain’s probe into the two Silicon Valley giants is not unique. Governments around the world have started pushing back against the hegemonic power of big tech firms.

On Friday, the US House Antitrust Subcommittee announced several bipartisan legislative proposals to prevent companies, including Apple and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) as well as Facebook and Amazon, from using their dominant market position to further choke competition.

The European Commission (EC) recently also launched a probe into Facebook to see whether it stifles competition. The investigation is led by executive vice-president of the EC Margrethe Vestager, who previously led similar charges against Google, Apple and Amazon.

In the far east, China is also fighting back against the country’s big tech companies. In March, Chinese household names such as Tencent, Baidu, ByteDance and Alibaba were hit with hefty antitrust fines.