The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched a market investigation into cloud gaming and mobile browsers after its study found that Apple and Google form a duopoly controlling the mobile ecosystem.
The CMA concluded a year-long study of the market for software, hardware and mobile services in June. Based on its findings – that Apple and Google have “a stranglehold on operating systems, app stores and web browsers on mobile devices” – the UK competition watchdog said at the time it intended to step up its investigation. opening a formal investigation.
This investigation has now begun and is expected to be completed in no more than 18 months. At that point, the CMA may choose to impose remedies, such as requiring a change in the way certain products are sold, requiring the divestment of business units, or insisting that anti-competitive restrictions be removed.
“Many UK businesses and web developers tell us they feel held back by the restrictions set by Apple and Google,” Sarah Cardell, interim chief executive of the CMA, said in a statement. “When the new digital markets regime is in place, it is likely to face these kinds of problems.”
“In the meantime, we are using our existing powers to address problems where we can. We intend to test whether the concerns we have heard are justified and, if so, identify measures to improve competition and innovation in these sectors.”
Separately, the CMA is looking into Google’s advertising activity and its Chrome “Privacy Sandbox” initiative, while another UK agency, Ofcom, is looking into how Amazon, Microsoft and Google affect competition in the cloud services sector.
The CMA in this case focuses on Apple and Google’s control over operating systems, app stores and web browsers on mobile devices. The Watchdog says that “97% of all mobile web browsing in the UK in 2021 is on browsers based on Apple’s or Google’s browser engine”, which makes restrictions on browser engines significant in the context of the competition.
The agency also notes that the 800,000 users of cloud gaming services in the UK are affected by the restrictions Apple and Google place on mobile cloud gaming services.
A major focus of the CMA investigation is on Apple’s requirement that all mobile browsers on iOS devices use its own WebKit rendering engine rather than competing browser engines like Google’s Blink (the foundation of Chrome) or Mozilla’s Gecko (the base of Firefox).
“Web developers have complained that Apple’s restrictions, combined with the suggested underinvestment in its browser technology, lead to extra costs and frustration as they face bugs and glitches when building web pages and have no choice but to create bespoke mobile apps when a website might be enough,” said the CMA.
The reference of the market survey of the CMA [PDF] it also says the agency will look into the use of in-app browsers, pseudo-browsers implemented within native apps that aren’t subject to the same limitations as standalone browsers.
The training of rivals and detectives
In response to the CMA’s consultation process, various companies that compete with Apple and Google, advocacy groups and individual developers voiced their concerns about Apple and Google’s practices in comments submitted in June that were just published.
Microsoft approved [PDF] the findings of the CMA and specifically expressed support for “removing Apple’s restrictions on competing browser engines on iOS devices, forcing access to certain features for browsers (including web app support), by requesting Apple and Google to provide equal access to features via API for rival browsers, requirements that make it easier for users to change the default browser in their device settings, and offer choice screens to overcome the distorting effects of pre-installation.”
Mozilla has also expressed support [PDF] for the CMA’s findings on issues arising from Apple’s iOS WebKit restriction and urged the CMA to extend its control to the Chrome desktop domain. Meta meanwhile asked the CMA to broaden the scope of its investigation to cover Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) privacy settings, which interfere with ad-revenue business models [PDF].
The Electronic Frontier Foundation noted [PDF]”Apple has a history of invoking security as a pro-competitive rationale for its policies, when many of the company’s practices are, in fact, anti-competitive.”
The advocacy organization said it has historically advised that the answer to restrictive app stores is competing app stores, but now argues that’s not possible given the market power of Apple and Google.
The EFF wrote: “[T]Dominant providers of mobile platforms have weaved together a set of legal doctrines – including anti-circumvention elements of copyright law, software patents, trade secrets, poorly drafted cybersecurity laws, onerous contract clauses, and exotic theories of unlawful interference with the common law – that create unbearable legal risks for anyone offering device owners alternative app stores.”
Open Web Advocacy, a developer rights group, provided 70 pages of analysis [PDF] which cites Apple’s financial interest in maintaining primacy of native iOS apps (which can generate gatekeeper revenue) over web apps (which cannot be controlled via App Store rules).
“By requiring all browsers on iOS to use the WebKit browser engine, Apple is able to exert control over the maximum functionality of all browsers on iOS and as a result hinder the development and use of web apps,” the group said. “This limits the competitive constraint that web apps place on native apps, which in turn protects and benefits Apple’s App Store revenue.”
Various web developers have made comments against the practices of Apple and Google. Among these, an individual identified as Mike Padgett has offered perhaps the most uninhibited view of the situation.
Padget wrote [PDF]”It’s insane that I even have to write this email….someone please stop Apple from waving the dick around with this ridiculous monopoly BS regarding the junk Safari kit on iOS.”
“There is literally no reason for Apple to maintain this position other than sheer anti-competitive greed.”
The register he asked Apple and Google for comment but neither responded.
However, both companies filed lengthy defenses of their practices earlier this year in response to the CMA’s consultation process.
Google in his comments [PDF] he said he welcomes the CMA’s investigation where there are real competition concerns: Apple’s iOS rules rather than Android where there is “little evidence” of adverse effects on competition.
Apple meanwhile took a less conciliatory tone and dismissed the CMA’s findings as flawed.
“Apple believes that a balanced review of the evidence would lead to the conclusion that competition in both mobile browsers and cloud gaming is robust and that, in particular, Apple’s approach offers users a valuable choice, focused on security , privacy and performance, across ecosystems,” the company said [PDF] through his Gibson Dunn law firm.
As if to underscore the EFF’s remark about Apple’s use of security as a justification for the status quo, Apple’s 15-page presentation includes 61 mentions of the word “security.” ®