The competition watchdog will try to expose how digital platforms treat developers feeding into their app stores in a new investigation targeting multinationals like Google and Apple.
Launched on Tuesday, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) wants to crack open the black box of decisions that can lead to some startups failing to have their apps listed on major marketplaces, while probing whether companies like Apple and Google give preference to their own software.
The investigation is the latest in a five-year ACCC inquiry into how digital platforms operate in Australia, this time targeting the dominating market positions of the Apple App store for iOS users and the Google Play store for Android devices.
“Apps have become essential tools for daily living for many Australian consumers, a trend that is likely to have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said in a statement.
“We want to know more about the market for mobile apps in Australia, including how transparent and effective the market is, for consumers as well as those operating in the market.
“We will also focus on the extent of competition between the major online app stores, and how they compete for app sales with other app providers.”
The ACCC has published an issues paper to guide submissions to the inquiry, which broadly covers the following points of interest:
- The intensity of competition in the app market;
- How Apple and Google conduct themselves in dealings with app developers;
- The relationship between Apple, Google and marketplace consumers;
- Trends in the app market and within marketplaces; and
- How Apple and Google decide which apps get listed and which don’t.
The ACCC contends the US-based Google and Apple have a domineering position over app marketplaces, which are ostensibly tied to whatever device operating system users have — a market that is itself dominated by Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.
“For app developers and suppliers, gaining a spot in one of the major app stores can result in significant sales, while failing to gain access can be a major setback. We are keen to provide greater transparency on how this process works,” Rickard said.
“We are also interested in how data is used and shared in the app ecosystem, including the data available to Google and Apple as a result of their control of the major app stores.”
The investigation comes amid escalating tensions between Google, the ACCC and the federal government over a media bargaining code that will force the technology giant to pay news companies for content.
The ACCC has published a survey for interested parties to contribute their views, and submissions will close on October 2.
The final report is slated for some time in March next year.