From ordering food to messaging friends, apps are ubiquitous, but two tech titans control the playing field and aren’t doing enough to address bad user experiences, the consumer watchdog has ruled.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission homed in on the extraordinary power of Apple and Google in the app market – and what can be done to rein it in – in its second Digital Platform Services Inquiry interim report released on Wednesday.
“Apps are everywhere. They are an essential part of our daily lives … And if consumers use an Apple mobile, they can only download apps from the Apple App Store,” ACCC chair Rod Sims explained.
“For other consumers using a mobile running the Android OS, the main place they download apps from is the Google Play Store,
Anyone with a smartphone will be familiar with these app stores, which Mr Sims called the “gateways between consumers and app developers”.
It’s handy to use your phone to check the stockmarket, learn a new language or communicate with friends, but Mr Sims warned there’s “significant issues” with how the market is being allowed to operate.
The ACCC’s report highlighted a number of problems that stem from Google and Apple’s dominance of the app market and affect consumers and app developers.
They range from inadequate arrangements to deal with harmful apps and consumer complaints, to concerns about the tech giants’ alleged self-preferencing and the use of data.
It also means competition is reduced in the app market, which has a flow-on effect for users and developers.
Apple and Google enjoy an advantage over app developers as they not only run the app marketplaces but also “compete within them with their own apps”, Mr Sims said.
“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,” he said.
App developers therefore need “fair and reasonable terms” when dealing with the tech giants, including better processes for the approval of apps.
What it means for consumers
Apple and Google have come some way in protecting users from malicious apps, but the ACCC says there’s still boobytraps for consumers to get sucked into – like subscription scams.
As well as tightening the accessibility of these scams, Mr Sims wants there to be a better system in place to support and compensate consumers who fall afoul of these dodgy apps.
The ACCC recommended that consumers be able to rate and review all apps, and that app developers be allowed to provide consumers with information about alternative payment options.
You know those pesky apps that come with your phone, that you’re never going to use, but you’re unable to delete? So they just sit there taking up space?
Mr Sims wants users to be given the power to change or remove pre-installed and default apps.
He also wants Apple and Google to be banned from collecting data from third-party apps, to use to their advantage in their own apps of a similar nature.
“This situation reinforces the need for an external dispute resolution body for digital platforms including Apple and Google, as previously recommended by the ACCC,” Mr Sims said.
“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.
“Regulation may be required if Apple and Google fail to take steps to address the concerns identified.”
Meaning? Shape up you two, or the watchdog will come for you.