UK watchdog to probe mobile browser market, takes aim at Google in-app purchases

UK competition regulator the CMA is to conduct a ‘market investigation’ into Apple and Google’s stranglehold on mobile browsers along with its impact on cloud gaming.

Following a year-long study of Apple and Google’s mobile ecosystems, the watchdog says it is also to take enforcement action against Google in relation to its app store payment practices.

The CMA says that Apple and Google have an effective duopoly on mobile ecosystems that allows them to exercise a stranglehold over these markets, including operating systems, app stores and web browsers on mobile devices.

The CMA is now consulting on making a market investigation reference into mobile browsers and access to cloud gaming on mobile devices under it current powers.

The regulator criticised Apple’s ban on alternatives to its own browser engine on mobile devices as well as both players installation of their own browsers as default options on phones.

In relation to cloud gaming, the watchdog said that Apple’s ban on cloud gaming services in its App Store risked causing mobile users to lose out and pointed to the fact that gaming apps are a key source of revenue for the tech giant, which the emergence of cloud gaming services could threaten.

The CMA has in parallel launched a competition law investigation into Google’s rules on apps’ access to listing on its Play Store, focusing on the conditions Google sets for how users can make in-app payments for certain digital products.

The regulator has an existing competition law investigation underway in relation to Apple’s App Store terms and conditions, which it opened in March last year.

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

“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.”

Coscelli said that the CMA would “maximise the use of our current tools” to take action while awaiting new legislation.

Tags: Apple, CMA, Google, UK

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