UK To Probe Apple, Google ‘Stranglehold’ On Mobile Browsing

British Competition and Markets Authority launches investigation into mobile browsers, targetting Apple and Google domination

Tech giants are once again the cross-hairs of the UK’s energetic competition regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

The British regulator on Tuesday announced that it has launched an investigation into Apple and Google’s control of the mobile browser market.

It said that it launched a market investigation into cloud gaming and mobile browsers after receiving widespread support for its proposals first published in June. It began that investigation back in June 2021.

Apple, Google probe

The CMA said it consulted on launching a market investigation alongside its Mobile Ecosystem Market Study report, which found that Apple and Google have an effective duopoly on mobile ecosystems that “allows them to exercise a ‘stranglehold’ over operating systems, app stores and web browsers on mobile devices.”

The CMA noted that browsers are one of the most important and widely used apps on mobile devices. Most people use their browser at least daily to access online content such as information, news, videos and shopping.

Indeed, 97 percent of all mobile web browsing in the UK in 2021 happens on browsers powered by either Apple’s or Google’s browser engine, so any restrictions on these engines can have a major impact on users’ experiences, said the CMA.

The UK regulator also noted that there are already more than 800,000 users of cloud gaming services in the UK but restrictions on their distribution on mobile devices could hamper growth in this sector, meaning UK gamers miss out.

Responses to the consultation apparently reveal “substantial support” for a fuller investigation into the way that Apple and Google dominate the mobile browser market and how Apple restricts cloud gaming through its App Store, the CMA said.

Many of those came from browser vendors, web developers, and cloud gaming service providers who say that the status quo is harming their businesses, holding back innovation, and adding unnecessary costs.

Web developers reportedly complained that Apple’s restrictions, combined with suggested underinvestment in its browser technology, lead to added costs and frustration as they have to deal with bugs and glitches when building web pages, and have no choice but to create bespoke mobile apps when a website might be sufficient.

At same time, Apple and Google have argued that restrictions are needed to protect users, the CMA noted.

Apple, Google Restrictions?

The CMA market investigation will consider these concerns and consider whether new rules are needed to drive better outcomes.

“We want to make sure that UK consumers get the best new mobile data services, and that UK developers can invest in innovative new apps,” noted Sarah Cardell, interim chief executive of the CMA.

“Many UK businesses and web developers tell us they feel that they are being held back by restrictions set by Apple and Google,” Cardell added. “When the new Digital Markets regime is in place, it’s likely to address these sorts of issues.”

“In the meantime, we are using our existing powers to tackle problems where we can,” said Cardell. “We plan to investigate whether the concerns we have heard are justified and, if so, identify steps to improve competition and innovation in these sectors.”

“Android gives people a greater choice of apps and app stores than any other mobile platform,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC. “It also enables developers to choose the browser engine they want, and has been the launchpad for millions of apps. We’re committed to building thriving, open platforms that empower consumers and help developers build successful businesses.”

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment

Tech investigations

The CMA has been very active of late, and last month it forced to Facebook parent Meta to sell off its Giphy purchase, despite both firms being headquartered in the United States.

In May the CMA announced an investigation into Google’s advertising technology intermediation.

The CMA (and the European Commission) is also investigating into Google and Meta to assess whether an agreement between Google and Meta for online display advertising services may have breached competition rules.

The CMA is also currently overseeing Google’s removal of third-party tracking cookies from its Chrome browser and has already forced the tech giant into a number of concessions.

CMA is also investigating Apple for suspected anti-competitive behaviour with app developers.

And the CMA said in September it would begin a deeper Phase 2 investigation into Microsoft’s $69bn acquisition of gaming giant Activision Blizzard.

In June the outgoing chief executive of the UK’s markets regulator Andrea Coscelli criticised the government’s move to put off giving it more powers over the biggest multinational tech companies, saying it risks handing the lead in regulation to the European Union.

Dr Andrea Coscelli, CMA chief executive.