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UK regulator investigates Apple and Google’s dominance of mobile platforms

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<span>Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

Britain’s competition regulator is investigating Apple and Google over allegations the two companies have a harmful duopoly in mobile platforms.

Between them, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android are installed on 99.45% of all mobile phones in use in the UK. The two companies also have effective duopolies in app stores (Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store) and mobile web browsers (Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome), according to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

The UK competition watchdog has announced a year-long study, already under way, into whether the control exerted by the two companies is stifling competition.

Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s chief executive, said: “Apple and Google control the major gateways through which people download apps or browse the web on their mobiles – whether they want to shop, play games, stream music or watch TV. We’re looking into whether this could be creating problems for consumers and the businesses that want to reach people through their phones.

“Our ongoing work into big tech has already uncovered some worrying trends and we know consumers and businesses could be harmed if they go unchecked.”

The CMA is looking at whether the duopoly is leading to price increases, for instance for devices and apps, or for broader goods and services, due to higher advertising prices. The regulator will also examine “any effects of the firms’ market power over other businesses – such as app developers – which rely on Apple or Google to market their products to customers via their phones”.

Both companies have faced growing pressure around the world to justify the power they exert over the mobile ecosystem. Central to the concerns are the limitations each company places on its mobile app store: developers are required to use bundled payment providers, and pay a cut of up to 30% to the platform holder.

Apple, in particular, has faced criticism for appending burdensome requirements, such as banning developers from telling users how to sign up for subscriptions, to its App Store rules, and is the subject of an EU competition commission investigation into how it runs its store.

A Google spokesperson said: “Android provides people with more choice than any other mobile platform in deciding which apps they use, and enables thousands of developers and manufacturers to build successful businesses. We welcome the CMA’s efforts to understand the details and differences between platforms before designing new rules.” Apple declined to comment.

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