Australia Says Apple and Google’s Default Phone Apps Stifle Competition

In this photo made on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, shows iPhones on display at an Apple store at a shopping mall in Pittsburgh.

In this photo made on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, shows iPhones on display at an Apple store at a shopping mall in Pittsburgh.
Photo: Keith Srakocic (AP)

Google and Apple should give consumers more control over which apps they have on their phones right out of the box, according to a new interim report from Australia’s top consumer watchdog. The report is Australia’s latest attempt to pick a fight with Big Tech, and if the past is any guide, Google and Apple will likely hit back hard.

“Apple and Google’s stores are the gateways between consumers and app developers, and it’s true that they provide considerable benefits to both groups. But there are significant issues with how this market is operating,” the head of Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission, Rod Sims, said in a statement Wednesday.

“Apple and Google don’t only run the app marketplaces, they also compete within them with their own apps,” Sims continued. “They have the ability and incentive to promote their own apps over others, and they control the terms that their competitors must comply with to gain access to their stores.”

“To address this market power, we believe app developers should have more information about how their apps are made discoverable to consumers and that consumers should have the ability to change or remove any pre-installed or default apps. Apple and Google should also be prevented from using information collected about third-party apps to advantage their own competing apps,” said Sims.

Australia antagonized Google earlier this year over news content and the tech giant threatened to pull its search product out of the country entirely. The Australian government squared up for a similar battle with Facebook, which saw the company stop users from sharing news entirely for almost a week. Both disputes were mediated and the companies currently operate like normal down under.

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But this latest report will likely anger the tech companies and we’ll just have to wait and see how they’ll respond to this latest regulatory salvo from Australia.

“We have identified a number of areas where action is required and have put forward potential measures to address areas of particular concern. There is a window of opportunity for Apple and Google themselves to take steps to improve outcomes for app developers and consumers by adopting the potential measures we have identified,” Sims said.

And then Sims got to the meat of the matter, threatening new regulations if Apple and Google don’t cooperate.

“The ACCC will also take into account significant proposals and law changes in other countries which have identified similar concerns. Regulation may be required if Apple and Google fail to take steps to address the concerns identified.”

Apple and Google did not respond to inquires from Gizmodo early Wednesday morning. We’ll update this post if we hear back.

Update, 9:22 a.m. ET: Apple sent Gizmodo the following statement:

Since its launch in 2008, the App Store has transformed how Australians are informed, inspired and entertained, and simultaneously created a rich source of opportunity for developers, turning great ideas into successful businesses that are thriving on a global stage. Today the App Store is home to nearly 2 million apps, all of which meet Apple’s rigorous standards of privacy, security and content, offering our customers a safe and trusted place to download apps. This unwavering commitment to bringing our customers the best experience is applied equally and evenly to all, including Apple’s own apps. We welcome the opportunity to continue this discussion with the ACCC.