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Lowlights from Zuckerberg’s Libra testimony in Congress – TechCrunch

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“I don’t control Libra” was the central theme of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony today in Congress. The House of Representatives unleashed critiques of his approach to cryptocurrency, privacy, encryption and running a giant corporation during six hours of hearings. Zuckerberg tried to assuage their fears while stoking concerns that if Facebook doesn’t build Libra, the world will end up using China’s version. Yet Facebook won’t stop shaking up society, with Zuckerberg saying its News tab feature will be announced this week.

During the hearing before the House Financial Services Committee that you can watch here, Zuckerberg recommitted to only releasing Libra with full U.S. regulatory approval. But given the tone of the questioning and Zuckerberg’s lack of fresh answers since Facebook’s David Marcus testified about Libra in July, Libra now looks even less likely to launch in 2020.

The hearing started tensely, with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) declaring that “Perhaps you believe that you’re above the law, and it appears that you are aggressively increasing the size of your company, and are willing to step over anyone, including your competitors, women, people of color, you own users, and even our democracy to get what you want . . . In fact, you have opened up a serious discussion about whether Facebook should be broken up.

However, some members of Congress used their time to advocate for American dominance instead of heavy regulation. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) said “the question is, are we going to spend our time trying to devise ways for government planners to centralize and control as to who, when and how innovators can innovate.” Many Republicans complimented Zuckerberg on his business acumen, though none showed outright support for Libra.

With few highlights or positive moments coming from the hearing, here are the major takeaways followed by a chronicle of the top exchanges between Zuckerberg and Congress:

  • Zuckerberg claims China will soon have its own version, so regulators shouldn’t block Libra
  • He’s open to regulators requiring Libra to be majority-backed by the U.S. dollar
  • Zuckerberg would leave inheritance to his children in Libra since it’s backed one-to-one with real currency
  • He wouldn’t commit to blocking anonymous wallets but he’s open to baking more anti-money laundering into Libra’s network
  • Zuckerberg plans to expand verifying users via government ID to battle abuse of Facebook
  • He said Libra partners left because “it’s a risky project and there’s been a lot of scrutiny”
  • Zuckerberg confirmed the Libra Association has abandoned or modified its plan to deal themselves dividends on interest from the Libra reserve
  • Facebook will pull out of Libra if it does something Facebook can’t allow or that it’s prohibited from by regulators
  • Zuckerberg didn’t discuss Facebook’s policy allowing misinformation in political ads with President Trump during their meeting
  • He says Facebook is developing anti-deepfakes technology and a policy about takedowns
  • He repeated his call for more government regulation instead of Facebook making its own rules
  • Facebook will comply with subpoenas for info on discrimination in housing ads
  • Zuckerberg wouldn’t commit to trying out the role of Facebook content moderator
  • Facebook plans to announce its upcoming News tab this week
  • Congress’ questions were smarter than a year ago, but still pried little new information on Libra out of Zuckerberg
  • Zuckerberg repeatedly relied on the Libra Association’s independence from Facebook to avoid substantial answers

On Libra versus China

Zuckerberg tried to leverage nationalist sentiment to deflect scrutiny. “As soon as we put forward the white paper around the Libra project, China immediately announced a public private partnership, working with companies . . . to extend the work that they’ve already done with AliPay into a digital Renminbi as part of the Belt and Road Initiative that they have, and they’re planning on launching that in the next few months.” He later said that for Libra, “Chinese companies would be the primary competitors.”

Facebook’s executives have repeatedly leaned on this “let us, or China will” argument we chronicle here.

What if the Libra Association chooses to add the Chinese currency to the basket used to back Libra and reduces the U.S. dollar’s fraction of the basket? “I think it would be completely reasonable for our regulators to try to [implement] a restriction that says that it has to be primarily U.S. dollars,” Zuckerberg responded in one of his most substantial answers of the day. Zuckerberg was receptive to feedback that the Libra Association should keep its white paper updated.

As for why Libra isn’t just backed 100% with the U.S. dollar, Zuckerberg explained that “I think from a U.S. regulatory perspective, it would probably be significantly simpler. But because we’re trying to build something that can also be a global payment system that works in other places, it may be less welcome in other places if it’s only 100% based on the dollar.” Still, Zuckerberg said he would leave his children their inheritance in Libra because it’s backed one-to-one by the Libra reserve.

On Libra and regulation

Zuckerberg wouldn’t commit to blocking anonymous Libra wallets that could facilitate money laundering, only saying Facebook’s own Calibra wallet would have strong identity checks. He did say Libra was exploring whether it could encode “know your customer” protections at the network level instead of relying on developers to build this into their wallets.

On whether Facebook will increasingly seek to verify users’ identities through government ID, Zuckerberg was enthusiastic. “This is an area where I think we are going to do a lot more in the years to come. We started with political ads . . .  over the coming years for anything that people are doing that is sensitive, we’re likely going to increasingly require verification either by government ID or other things so we can have a clear sense of people’s authentic identity.”

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) mentioned this could be a competitive advantage, implying Facebook’s size and resources might allow it to embark on a verification initiative other companies couldn’t.

Calibra Know Your Customer

Facebook has assured regulators that Calibra’s data would be kept separate from the social network. But Facebook said the same when it acquired WhatsApp, then reneged and integrated its data. This time around, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez declared that “we’re going to need to make sure that . . . you learned that you should not lie.”

When pushed on why Libra Association members like Visa, Stripe and eBay left the organization, Zuckerberg admitted, “I think because it’s a risky project and there’s been a lot of scrutiny.” Zuckerberg struck back at finance incumbents, saying “I think that the U.S. financial industry . . . is just frankly behind where it needs to be to innovate and continue American financial leadership going forward.”

In an awkward moment, Zuckerberg could not answer which Libra members were run by women, minorities or LGBTQ+ people. “Is it true that the overwhelming majority of persons associated with this endeavor are white men?,” Rep. Al Green (D-TX) asked. “Congressman, I don’t know off the top of my head,” Zuckerberg responded.

Zuckerberg was criticized for trying to profit and potentially helping money laundering while claiming Libra is designed to help the unbanked. Zuckerberg said the Libra Association “hadn’t nailed down policies” about whether anonymous payments are allowed.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) said “for the richest man in the world to come here and hide behind the poorest people in the world, and say that’s who you’re really trying to help. You’re trying to help those for whom the dollar is not a good currencydrug dealers, terrorists.” Some members of Congress like Sherman chose to use their entire time monologuing instead of actually asking questions. 

Zuckerberg got a chance to clear up a major snafu from Marcus’ testimony, where he said the Libra Association was in contact with the Swiss data regulator, which CNBC reported hadn’t heard from Libra. Zuckerberg explained today that the Libra Association had been in contact with the primary Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority instead. He says Facebook plans to earn money from Libra on ads from small businesses if cheap transactions lead to more e-commerce.

In one revealing exchange, Rep. Lance Gooden (R-TX) asked if the Libra Association still planned to offer profit incentives by offering dividends based on interest earned on currency in the Libra reserve after expenses are paid. Zuckerberg said the idea had either been “modified or abandoned.”

Screen Shot 2019 10 23 at 11.51.30 AM

The highlighted section detailing how Libra Association members earn dividends on Libra reserve interest has been removed from the Libra whitepaper

Claiming Facebook isn’t Libra

Throughout the testimony, Zuckerberg tried to distance himself and Facebook from the Libra Association’s decision making process. “We might be required to pull out if the Association independently decides to move forward on something that we’re not comfortable with,” Zuckerberg said. That means if Facebook can’t launch Libra, it could still theoretically launch without the social network, though it does most of the engineering heavy-lifting.

The strategy was crystallized by Zuckerberg’s response to whether he could commit to moving Libra’s headquarters from Switzerland to the U.S. “At this point, we do not control the independent Libra Association so I don’t think we can make that decision.” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) refuted this position, stating, “Mr. Zuckerberg, Libra is Facebook, and Facebook is you.”

Mark Zuckerberg Hearing In Congress

The Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, testified before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday October 23, 2019 Washington, D.C. (Photo by Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The “we don’t control Libra” argument provides Facebook and Libra an escape hatch from criticism, because any member and even the newly appointed chairperson and board can’t unilaterally control or make promises about its actions.

On misinformation and encryption

Many Congress members remain fixated on Facebook’s recently solidified policy of refusing to submit political ads for fact-checking. Rep Sean Casten (D-IL) asked if in Zuckerberg’s recent meeting with President Trump, “Did anyone discuss the policy change along the exemption of political figures and parties from misinformation prohibition on Facebook?” Zuckerberg responded, “Congressman, that did not come up,” quieting theories that Trump pushed for the policy that would exempt false claims in his ads.

Zuckerberg defended the policy to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), saying “I think lying is bad, and I think if you were to run an ad that had a lie, that would be bad,” but that outside of calls for violence or voter suppression, Facebook thinks it’s best to leave lies in ads from politicians so they can be scrutinized by the press and public. Yet that too heavily leans on the media to scrutinize thousands of ad variants being run as part of multi-hundred-million-dollar political ad campaigns.

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) chided Zuckerberg, saying “you’re not working hard enough” to stop the spread of child exploitation imagery online despite Facebook submitting millions of reports. She brought up worries that Facebook moving entirely to encrypted messaging could hide child abusers, and Zuckerberg merely said “I think we work harder than any other company.” He failed to explain how Facebook would continue improving detection through encryption.

Oddly, Zuckerberg was directly confronted about his views on vaccines since Facebook works to hide vaccine hoaxes and avoid recommending groups spreading unverified information about them. “I don’t think it would be possible for anyone to be 100% confident, but my understanding of the scientific consensus is that it is important that people get their vaccines,” Zuckerberg said, defending Facebook’s decision to hide some of this content.

In another strange moment, Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) demanded if Facebook had bought blocks of hotel rooms at Trump properties but never used them just to curry favor with the president. Zuckerberg said he’d never heard of that and would be surprised if it was true.

On deepfakes, Zuckerberg confirmed that “I think deepfakes are clearly one of the emerging threats that we need to get in front of and develop policy around to address. We’re currently working on what the policy should be to differentiate between media that has manipulated and been manipulated by AI tools like deepfakes, with the intent to mislead people.” Zuckerberg later said the doctored Nancy Pelosi video should have been flagged sooner, and highlighted Facebook needs a separate deepfakes policy. Yet Facebook’s policy allows politicians’ ads to mislead people, weakening faith that it will properly address this new problem.

Questions about Facebook’s fair practices led Zuckerberg to reiterate his call for regulation, saying “I think we need federal privacy legislation. I think we need data portability legislation. I think clear rules on elections-related content would be helpful too because it’s not clear to me that we want private companies making so many decisions on these important areas by themselves.”

On diversity, discrimination and moderation

Regarding housing discrimination via Facebook ads, Zuckerberg committed to working with regulators to provide information under subpoena, noted Facebook has banned discriminatory housing ads, and said “Nobody wants to redline and I’m sure that was accidental.”

Zuckerberg received his heaviest criticism of the day from Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH), who grilled him about not knowing if diverse bankers manage Facebook’s cash or if diverse law firms handle its court cases. She chastised Facebook for a lack of diverse leadership, saying “this is appalling and disgusting to me.” Of COO Sheryl Sandberg, who leads Facebook’s civil rights task force, Beatty said “we know she’s not really civil rights.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Testifies Before The House Financial Services Committee

WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 23: Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg testified about Facebook’s proposed cryptocurrency Libra, how his company will handle false and misleading information by political leaders during the 2020 campaign and how it handles its users’ data and privacy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Some of the day’s most astute questioning came from Congresswoman Katherine Porter (D-CA). She hammered Zuckerberg about Facebook lawyers fighting to avoid liability over data breaches. Then she trapped Zuckerberg on the issue of the mental health harms of being a Facebook content moderator that reviews horrific and graphic violence.

Would you be willing to commit to spending one hour a day for the next year, watching these videos and acting as a content monitor and only accessing the same benefits available to your workers?,” she asked.I’m not sure that would serve our community for me to spend my time,” Zuckerberg said. “What you’re saying is you’re not willing to do it,” she replied.

Facebook will announce news service

There’ll be more major launches from Facebook that could raise questions about its impact on society, Zuckerberg revealed. “Later this week we actually have a big announcement coming up on launching a big initiative around news and journalism, where we’re partnering with a lot of folks to build a new product that’s supporting high-quality journalism.” Facebook plans to launch a News section featuring headlines from top outlets, though only some will be paid.

“I think that there’s an opportunity within Facebook in our services to build a dedicated surface, a tab within the apps for example, where people who really want to see high quality curated news, not just social content . . . I’m looking forward to discussing that in more length in the coming days.” That service is sure to trigger debates about whether Facebook is trustworthy enough to be a formal conduit for news.

Overall, the questioning today was much more intelligent than the vague and easily-Googleable queries launched at Zuckerberg by Congress in April 2018. We had no “Senator, we run ads” moments. Instead, it was Zuckerberg who repeatedly used the separation between Facebook and the Libra Association plus the fact that Libra’s policies are still being defined to avoid giving many substantial answers. Combined with the short five-minute Q&A period per member of Congress, Zuckerberg was often able to just repeat existing talking points.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Testifies Before The House Financial Services Committee

WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 23: Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg testified about Facebook’s proposed cryptocurrency Libra, how his company will handle false and misleading information by political leaders during the 2020 campaign and how it handles its users’ data and privacy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In one of the few lighthearted moments of the day, Rep. Juan Vargas recognized the tough position Zuckerberg has gotten himself into. “It’s good to have someone that’s sturdy and resilient. You’re probably the right person at the right time to take this beating.” Yet Rep. McHenry depressingly concluded that, after six hours, “I’m not sure we’ve learned anything new here.”

The question is what array of Libra and Facebook executives would Congress need to have testify together to get real answers to critical questions about how to keep the two from harming the global economy.

The hearing is ongoing and we’ll continue to update this article with major takeaways.



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Mobile game spending hits record $1.7B per week in Q1 2021, up 40% from pre-pandemic levels – TechCrunch

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The COVID-19 pandemic drove increased demand for mobile gaming, as consumers under lockdowns looked to online sources of entertainment, including games. But even as COVID-19 restrictions are easing up, the demand for mobile gaming isn’t slowing. According to a new report from mobile data and analytics provider App Annie in collaboration with IDC, users worldwide downloaded 30% more games in the first quarter of 2021 than in the fourth quarter of 2019, and spent a record-breaking $1.7 billion per week in mobile games in Q1 2021.

That figure is up 40% from pre-pandemic levels, the report noted.

Image Credits: App Annie

The U.S. and Germany led other markets in terms of growth in mobile game spending year-over-year as of Q1 2021 in the North American and Western European markets, respectively. Saudi Arabia and Turkey led the growth in the rest of the world, outside the Asia-Pacific region. The latter made up around half of the mobile game spend in the quarter, App Annie said.

The growth in mobile gaming, in part accelerated by the pandemic, also sees mobile further outpacing other forms of digital games consumption. This year, mobile gaming will increase its global lead over PC and Mac gaming to 2.9x and will extend its lead over home games consoles to 3.1x.

Image Credits: App Annie

However, this change comes at a time when the mobile and console market is continuing to merge, App Annie notes, as more mobile devices are capable of offering console-like graphics and gameplay experiences, including those with cross-platform capabilities and social gaming features.

Games with real-time online features tend to dominate the Top Grossing charts on the app stores, including things like player-vs-player and cross-play features. For example, the top grossing mobile game worldwide on iOS and Google Play in Q1 2021 was Roblox. This was followed by Genshin Impact, which just won an Apple Design Award during the Worldwide Developer Conference for its visual experience.

Image Credits: App Annie

The report also analyzed the ad market around gaming and the growth of mobile companion apps for game consoles, including My Nintendo, Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation App, Steam, Nintendo Switch and Xbox apps. Downloads for these apps peaked under lockdowns in April 2020 in the U.S., but continue to see stronger downloads than pre-pandemic.

Image Credits: App Annie

On the advertising front, App Annie says user sentiment toward in-game mobile ads improved in Q3 2020 compared with Q3 2019, but rewarded video ads and playable ads were preferred in the U.S.

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Apple Podcasts Subscriptions go live worldwide – TechCrunch

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Apple Podcasts Subscriptions are now live across more than 170 countries and regions, Apple announced this morning. First unveiled this spring, subscriptions allow listeners to unlock additional benefits for their favorite podcasts, including things like ad-free listening, early access to new episodes, bonus material, exclusives or whatever else the podcast creator believes will be something their fans will pay for. Channels allow podcasters to group their shows however they like — for instance, to highlight a set of shows with a shared theme, or to offer different mixes of free and paid content.

The new subscription features were initially set to arrive in May, but Apple later emailed creators that the launch was being pushed to June. This was likely due to a series of back-end issues impacting the service, including things like delayed episodes and malfunctioning analytics, among other things.

At launch, Apple says there are thousands of subscriptions and channels available, with more expected to arrive on a weekly basis.

When listeners purchase a subscription to a show, they’ll automatically follow the show in the redesigned Apple Podcasts app. The show’s page will also be updated with a Subscriber Edition label, so they’ll be able to more easily tell if they have access to the premium experience.

The app’s Listen Now tab will expand with new rows that provide access to paid subscriptions, including their available channels.

In the app, users can discover channels from show pages and through Search, browse through recommendations from the Listen Now and Browse tabs, and share channels with friends through Messages, Mail and other apps.

Apple’s delay to invest in the Podcasts market has given its rivals a head start on growing their own audience for podcasts. At the time of the spring announcement of subscriptions, for example, an industry report suggested that Spotify’s podcast listeners would top Apple’s for the first time in 2021.

Despite the competition, Apple is betting its massive install base will bring in creators. Those creators agree to pay Apple a 30% cut of their subscription revenue in year one, just like subscription-based iOS apps. That cut drops to 15% in year two. Spotify, by comparison, is taking no revenue cut for the next two years while its program gets off the ground. It will then take only a 5% fee.

Based on the debut lineup, it seems many creators and studios believe Apple’s footprint is worth the larger revenue share.

Early adopters of subscriptions include notable names like Lemonada Media, Luminary, Realm and Wondery; media and entertainment brands, including CNN, NPR, The Washington Post and Sony Music Entertainment.

Other studio participants include Audio Up, Betches Media, Blue Wire, Campside Media, Imperative Entertainment, Lantigua Williams & Co., Magnificent Noise, The Moth, Neon Hum Media, Three Uncanny Four, Wondery, Audacy’s Cadence13 and Ramble, Barstool Sports, Jake Brennan’s Double Elvis, Headgum, iHeartMedia’s The Black Effect, Big Money Players, Grim & Mild, Seneca Women, Shondaland, Relay FM, Tenderfoot TV, Radiotopia from PRX, Pushkin Industries, QCODE and others,

Image Credits: Apple

In the news category, there’s also The Athletic, Fox News, Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg Media, Politico and Vox Media, plus channels from other newspapers, magazines, broadcasters, radio stations and digital publishers, including ABC News, Axios, Billboard, Bravo, CNBC, CNN, Crooked Media, Dateline, Entertainment Weekly, Futuro Media, The Hollywood Reporter, LAist Studios, National Geographic, MSNBC, NBC News, NBC Sports, New York Magazine, The New York Times, SiriusXM, SB Nation, Southern Living, The Verge, TODAY, VICE, Vogue, Vox and WBUR.

Kids’ podcasts are also available, including those from GBH, Gen-Z Media, Pinna, Wonkybot Studios, TRAX from PRX and others.

Apple also highlighted independent creators offering subscriptions like “Birthful” with Adriana Lozada, “Pantsuit Politics” with Beth Silvers and Sarah Stewart Holland, “Snap Judgment” with Glynn Washington and “You Had Me At Black” with Martina Abrams Ilunga.

Image Credits: Apple

Meanwhile, international subscriptions and channels are being offered from ABC, LiSTNR and SBS from Australia; Abrace Podcasts from Brazil; CANADALAND and Frequency Podcast Network from Canada; GoLittle from Denmark; Europe 1, Louie Media, and Radio France from France; Der Spiegel, Podimo, and ZEIT ONLINE from Germany; Il Sole 24 Ore and Storielibere.fm from Italy; J-WAVE from Japan; Brainrich from Korea; libo/libo from Russia; Finyal Media from the UAE; and Broccoli Productions, The Bugle, Content Is Queen, the Guardian, Immediate Media, and Somethin’ Else from the U.K.

Subscriptions start at $0.49 U.S. per month and go up, with some popular shows priced at $2.99 per month and some channels, like Luminary, at $4.99 per month, to give you an idea of pricing. Apple Card users get a 3% cash back on their subscriptions, which can be viewed in Apple Wallet.

Once subscribed, you can listen across Apple devices, including iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, Apple TV, CarPlay, HomePod and HomePod mini.

Subscriptions were announced alongside a redesigned version of the Apple Podcasts app, which has received a number of usability complaints and sent some users in search of third-party apps. Apple has been responding to user feedback and addressed some issues in the iOS 14.6 update with other Library tab updates planned to arrive in future releases, perhaps iOS 14.7.

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UK’s CMA opens market study into Apple, Google’s mobile “duopoly” – TechCrunch

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The UK’s competition watchdog will take a deep dive look into Apple and Google’s dominance of the mobile ecosystem, it said today — announcing a market study which will examine the pair’s respective smartphone platforms (iOS and Android); their app stores (App Store and Play Store); and web browsers (Safari and Chrome). 

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is concerned that the mobile platform giants’ “effective duopoly” in those areas  might be harming consumers, it added.

The study will be wide ranging, with the watchdog concerns about the nested gateways that are created as a result of the pair’s dominance of mobile ecosystem — intermediating how consumers can access a variety of products, content and services (such as music, TV and video streaming; fitness tracking, shopping and banking, to cite some of the examples provided by the CMA).

“These products also include other technology and devices such as smart speakers, smart watches, home security and lighting (which mobiles can connect to and control),” it went on, adding that it’s looking into whether their dominance of these pipes is “stifling competition across a range of digital markets”, saying too that it’s “concerned this could lead to reduced innovation across the sector and consumers paying higher prices for devices and apps, or for other goods and services due to higher advertising prices”.

The CMA further confirmed the deep dive will examine “any effects” of the pair’s market power over other businesses — giving the example of app developers who rely on Apple or Google to market their products to customers via their smart devices.

The watchdog already has an open investigation into Apple’s App Store, following a number of antitrust complaints by developers.

It is investigating Google’s planned depreciation of third party tracking cookies too, after complaints by adtech companies and publishers that the move could harm competition. (And just last week the CMA said it was minded to accept a series of concessions offered by Google that would enable the regulator to stop it turning off support for cookies entirely if it believes the move will harm competition.)

The CMA said both those existing investigations are examining issues that fall within the scope of the new mobile ecosystem market study but that its work on the latter will be “much broader”.

It added that it will adopt a joined-up approach across all related cases — “to ensure the best outcomes for consumers and other businesses”.

It’s giving itself a full year to examine Gapple’s mobile ecosystems.

It is also soliciting feedback on any of the issues raised in its statement of scope — calling for responses by 26 July. The CMA added that it’s also keen to hear from app developers, via its questionnaire, by the same date.

Taking on tech giants

The watchdog has previously scrutinized the digital advertising market — and found plenty to be concerned about vis-a-vis Google’s dominance there.

That earlier market study has been feeding the UK government’s plan to reform competition rules to take account of the market-deforming power of digital giants. And the CMA suggested the new market study, examining ‘Gapple’s’ mobile muscle, could similarly help shape UK-wide competition law reforms.

Last year the UK announced its plan to set up a “pro-competition” regime for regulating Internet platforms — including by establishing a dedicated Digital Markets Unit within the CMA (which got going earlier this year).

The legislation for the reform has not yet been put before parliament but the government has said it wants the competition regulator to be able to “proactively shape platforms’ behavior” to avoid harmful behavior before it happens” — saying too that it supports enabling ex ante interventions once a platform has been identified to have so-called “strategic market status”.

Germany already adopted similar reforms to its competition law (early this year), which enable proactive interventions to tackle large digital platforms with what is described as “paramount significance for competition across markets”. And its Federal Cartel Office has, in recent months, wasted no time in opening a number of proceedings to determine whether Amazon, Google and Facebook have such a status.

The CMA also sounds keen to get going to tackle Internet gatekeepers.

Commenting in a statement, CEO Andrea Coscelli said:

“Apple and Google control the major gateways through which people download apps or browse the web on their mobiles – whether they want to shop, play games, stream music or watch TV. We’re looking into whether this could be creating problems for consumers and the businesses that want to reach people through their phones.

“Our ongoing work into big tech has already uncovered some worrying trends and we know consumers and businesses could be harmed if they go unchecked. That’s why we’re pressing on with launching this study now, while we are setting up the new Digital Markets Unit, so we can hit the ground running by using the results of this work to shape future plans.”

The European Union also unveiled its own proposals for clipping the wings of big tech last year — presenting its Digital Markets Act plan in December which will apply a single set of operational rules to so-called “gatekeeper” platforms operating across the EU.

The clear trend in Europe on digital competition is toward increasing oversight and regulation of the largest platforms — in the hopes that antitrust authorities can impose measures that will help smaller players thrive.

Critics might say that’s just playing into the tech giants’ hands, though — because it’s fiddling around the edges when more radical intervention (break ups) are what’s really needed to reboot captured markets.

Apple and Google were contacted for comment on the CMA’s market study.

A Google spokesperson said: “Android provides people with more choice than any other mobile platform in deciding which apps they use, and enables thousands of developers and manufacturers to build successful businesses. We welcome the CMA’s efforts to understand the details and differences between platforms before designing new rules.”

According to Google, the Android App Economy generated £2.8BN in revenue for UK developers last year, which it claims supported 240,000 jobs across the country — citing a Public First report that it commissioned.

The tech giant also pointed to operational changes it has already made in Europe, following antitrust interventions by the European Commission — such as adding a choice screen to Android where users can pick from a list of alternative search engines.

Earlier this month it agreed to shift the format underlying that choice screen from an unpopular auction model to free participation.

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