UK Antitrust Watchdog to Investigate Apple and Google for Mobile Dominance

The U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has decided to launch a market investigation into Apple and Google’s dominance in mobile browsers after a year-long study of the iOS and Android ecosystems.

97% of all mobile web browsing in the U.K. during 2021 was done on either Apple’s or Google’s browser ‘engine,’ the CMA said. What’s more, Apple does not allow alternative browser engines on iOS.

According to the CMA, the pair’s overwhelming command over mobile browsing stifles innovation and gatekeeps new players from breaking into the market.

“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,” said CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli.

“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.”

An interim report published by the CMA in December 2021 said both Apple and Google have developed a “vice-like grip” on consumers and the market. Apple wholly dismissed the watchdog’s findings in a March 2022 response.

Furthermore, the CMA wants to look into Apple’s practice of banning cloud gaming services from the App Store. Over the course of its market study, the CMA heard from several businesses that the restrictions on mobile browsers and cloud gaming harm innovation and competition in these markets.

“Without interventions, both companies are likely to maintain, and even strengthen, their grip over the sector, further restricting competition and limiting incentives for innovators,” the competition watchdog said in a press release.

Alongside its consultation on whether a market investigation is warranted, the CMA also launched a competition law investigation into Google’s Play Store rules for how users can make in-app payments for certain digital offerings.

A market investigation by the CMA is an in-depth investigation led by a subset of the CMA’s panel of members. The objective of the probe is to determine whether a market or practices therein have an adverse effect on competition (AEC).

If investigators find an AEC, the CMA has the power to impose its own remedies on businesses to mitigate the impact on competition.

The CMA’s consultation on the proposed market investigation will close on July 22. Once a reference is made, the authority will have 18 months to complete its market investigation (extendable by up to 6 months under exceptional circumstances).

The watchdog says Apple and Google’s dominance “allows them to shut out competitors, holding back the British tech sector and limiting choice.”

The CMA also has an existing competition law investigation into Apple’s App Store practices.