Apple’s App Store Faces New Antitrust Investigation in UK

Apple’s App Store Faces New Antitrust Investigation in UK
The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro on display in London, England. (Photo: Ming Yeung, Getty Images)

Regulators in the UK have launched a new antitrust investigation into Apple’s App Store, according to an announcement from Britain’s Competition and Market’s Authority on Thursday. And if the details sound similar to the European Union’s antitrust probes, that’s no accident.

The UK will investigate the terms developers must agree to when they build software for Apple’s App store, along with the commission paid to Apple for in-app purchases. The UK’s CMA hopes to determine whether Apple’s practices are anti-competitive, though today’s announcement is just the first step in a long regulatory process.

“Millions of us use apps every day to check the weather, play a game or order a takeaway. So, complaints that Apple is using its market position to set terms which are unfair or may restrict competition and choice – potentially causing customers to lose out when buying and using apps – warrant careful scrutiny,” Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, said in a statement posted online Thursday morning.

“Our ongoing examination into digital markets has already uncovered some worrying trends,” Coscelli continued. “We know that businesses, as well as consumers, may suffer real harm if anti-competitive practices by big tech go unchecked. That’s why we’re pressing on with setting up the new Digital Markets Unit and launching new investigations wherever we have grounds to do so.”

The UK’s antitrust investigation sounds identical to the EU’s recently announced investigation, and the CMA’s press release even acknowledges that fact, which makes a lot of sense in a post-Brexit world. One imagines the UK will need to double up plenty of investigations like this after leaving the European bloc, which has made British consumers more vulnerable in any number of ways.

Ironically, the UK has far less leverage against Apple, now that it’s out of the EU, if it really wants to impose actual penalties against the California-based tech giant. Australia, which has recently squared off against large tech companies like Facebook and Google, can tell the UK all about the challenges of being a smaller country trying to fight back against big tech. You don’t have many levers to pull and the companies are likely to cut you off completely as part of the negotiation process — as both Google and Facebook threatened to do.

Good job, Leavers. Hope you feel more independent or whatever it was you were trying to accomplish with Brexit.