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Apple and Google mobile app stores face regulatory probe

Consumer watchdog ACCC says its plans to scrutinise the app stores of smartphone OS operators Google and Apple.

The regulatory body says it will investigate the mobile app experiences of Australian consumers, developers, suppliers and others, particularly on the issues on data usage and sharing as well as monitor the pricing transparency. It has invited consumers to share their experiences via a short survey.

The consumer watchdog also released an issues paper calling on app developers and suppliers to provide insights and feedback on mobile apps.

The move is part of a five-year inquiry which will roll out reports every six months.

“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,” said ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard.

“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.”

Australians use apps on phones, tablets and smart watches. The apps vary from games, entertainment, health and fitness, education, banking  to essential-goods delivery. The ACCC said despite the multiple apps available, the market is largely dominated by the Apple App Store, for iOS and the Google Play Store.

“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. 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,” Rickard said.

The ACCC said the survey and the issues paper are available from digital platforms services inquiry. Submissions are open until October 2 and the final report is scheduled for release in March.

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