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ACCC Hammers Apple And Google Over App Store Practices

The ACCC has lashed Apple and Google over their respective app stores, which between them have a near-stranglehold on the mobile app market.

In its second Digital Platform Services Inquiry interim report, the consumer watchdog said measures are needed to address the “significant market power” Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store have in the distribution of mobile apps in Australia.

Rod Sims, chair of the ACCC, pointed out that the App Store is the only legitimate source of iOS apps, while the Google Play Store is the main (though not the only) source of apps for Android; this despite apps being “an essential part of our daily lives”.

“Apple and Google’s stores are the gateways between consumers and app developers, and it’s true that they provide considerable benefits to both groups. But there are significant issues with how this market is operating.

“Apple and Google don’t only run the app marketplaces, they also compete within them with their own apps. They have the ability and incentive to promote their own apps over others, and they control the terms that their competitors must comply with to gain access to their stores,” he said.

Rod Sims, ACCC.

Sims said that app developers should have more information about how Apple and Google make their apps discoverable by consumers, that consumers should be able to change or remove pre-installed or default apps, and that more should be done to remove malicious apps that feature scams like “subscription traps”.

“Apple and Google should also be prevented from using information collected about third-party apps to advantage their own competing apps.

“The ACCC is also concerned with restrictions imposed by Apple and Google which mean developers have no choice but to use Apple and Google’s own payment systems for any in-app purchases,” he said, alluding to high-profile battles with developers such as Epic Games, which is suing Apple for removing Fortnite from the App Store after it offered an alternative in-app payment method in contravention of App Store policies.

The ACCC is suggesting a number of measures, including the ability for consumers to rate and review all apps; that developers be permitted to offer alternative payment options; and that Apple and Google ring-fence any information gained from their capacity as app store operators.

“There is a window of opportunity for Apple and Google themselves to take steps to improve outcomes for app developers and consumers by adopting the potential measures we have identified.

“Regulation may be required if Apple and Google fail to take steps to address the concerns identified,” warned Sims.

The Digital Platform Services Inquiry is running over the course of five years, and the ACCC will take into account any steps by Apple and Google to address its concerns.

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