Apple and Google control what apps you can install on your phone, and they might get bitten by the consumer watchdog over it.

If Facebook, Google and other social media giants cannot come to a sensible compromise on media companies for their content, the government "reserves the right" to step in, according to Communications Minister Paul Fletcher. Google and Facebook have been ordered to find a deal with media companies within a year to pay for content or face tough new rules. Responding to a landmark inquiry by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the government unveiled a road map to rebalance market power and boost transparency. Among the reforms, $27-million has been allocated a new unit within the ACCC to investigate the activities of the digital platforms. There will also be a voluntary code of conduct to govern dealings between tech titans and media businesses and a review of privacy laws, in order to protect consumer data.

Apple and Google are under investigation over the way they run their mobile app marketplaces. Picture: Emmanuel Dunand and Loic Venance / AFPSource:AFP

If you’ve ever bought or downloaded an app on your smartphone the consumer watchdog wants to hear what you thought of the experience.

As part of its ongoing digital platform services inquiry and shortly after announcing its plans to start making big tech companies pay for Australian news content on their platforms, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is joining other agencies internationally in probing the storefronts used to deliver apps on Apple and Android phones.

Apple’s App Store is a particular point of interest as unlike Android, which does allow you to install apps from elsewhere, the App Store is the only way for iPhone and iPad users to get apps on their devices.

This means it’s also the only way for to developers to get their apps to consumers, which means they’re forced to give Apple 30 cents out of every dollar they make from purchases in the app (Google does charge a similar amount to Android developers too).

“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. Apps are, in turn, increasingly important for businesses as they promote, grow and run their enterprises,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.

The consumer watchdog is “examining potential competition and consumer issues in this area” with a particular focus on the fact the marketplaces are pre-installed on consumer devices.

It’s also looking at what role Apple and Google play as not only the store runners but as app developers themselves, as well as developing the operating systems apps run on.

How marketplaces determine what apps can go on its store and how those apps are ranked ahead or below one another is also under the microscope.

Antitrust investigators around the world are asking questions of Apple’s App Store. Picture: Josh Edelson / AFPSource:AFP

“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,” Ms Rickard said.

In preparation for the report the ACCC is now looking for the experiences and views of Australian consumers on mobile app stores.

Some of the questions include concerns about the amount of information users are given about apps before they download them and how those apps handle data, as well as around hidden costs inside apps and misleading or scam apps.

Google’s Android allows you to install apps from places other than the Play Store but is still being probed by the ACCC. Lionel Bonaventure / AFP)Source:AFP

Italy announced this week that its antitrust authority had opened an inquiry into cloud computing services offered by Google, Apple and Dropbox.

Earlier this year Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai fronted a US congressional hearing (along with Facebook and Amazon bosses Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos) in response to a number of antitrust investigations against big tech companies.

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