Apple and Google’s app store policies are “harmful to developers and consumers” and should be changed, says a new US government report.
The results of President Biden’s 2021 Executive Order on Competition were published today by the US Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
The report states that Apple and Google’s current policies “have the potential to harm consumers by inflating prices and reducing innovation,” and outlines two main findings:
“Consumers largely can’t get apps outside of the app store model, controlled by Apple and Google. This means innovators have very limited avenues for reaching consumers.”
“Apple and Google create hurdles for developers to compete for consumers by imposing technical limits, such as restricting how apps can function or requiring developers to go through slow and opaque review processes.”
It goes on to offer four main recommendations to help foster more competition in the sector:
- Consumers should have more control over their devices. They should be able to choose their own apps as defaults, use alternative mobile app stores, and delete or hide pre-installed apps.
- App store operators should not be able to “self-preference” their apps in an anticompetitive manner. Operators should not be able to favour their own apps in how they appear in search results or discriminate against other apps that are similar to their own.
- Operators should lift restrictions on alternative ways for consumers to download and install apps. While still preserving appropriate latitude for privacy and security safeguards, legislative and regulatory measures should prohibit restrictions on sideloading, alternative app stores and web apps.
- Addressing limits on in-app purchasing options. This can be done by banning requirements that developers use the app store operators’ in-app payment system.
The report notes, however, that “new legislation and additional antitrust enforcement actions are likely necessary to boost competition in the app ecosystem”. So it is now down to US legislators to take these recommendations and enact them.
The US report is the latest in a string of moves by different governments around the world designed to tackle Apple and Google’s app store duopoly.
The UK’s market regulator is currently investigating the issue, and the EU’s digital markets act, which companies must comply with by 2024, will also force Apple and Google to open up their stores. Though as we’ve noted previously, they won’t give up their 30% without a fight.