U.S. Government to Investigate Sideloading and Web App Restrictions on iOS
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has launched an investigation into competition in mobile app ecosystems.
On behalf of the United States Department of Commerce, the NTIA is now requesting comments about competition in mobile app ecosystems. The investigation was triggered by an executive order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy from July last year, with the aim of making recommendations for improving competition, reducing barriers to entry, and maximizing user benefit. President Biden's executive order explained:
The American information technology sector has long been an engine of innovation and growth, but today a small number of dominant Internet platforms use their power to exclude market entrants, to extract monopoly profits, and to gather intimate personal information that they can exploit for their own advantage. Too many small businesses across the economy depend on those platforms and a few online marketplaces for their survival...
The formal request for comment lists in detail how iOS is likely to come under scrutiny as part of the investigation, with questions related to benefits of developing a standalone app for a platform compared to cross-platform web apps, how web apps should operate on mobile platforms, the availability of other methods of app distribution, and app sideloading. Particular attention is given to iOS's "unique barriers" that prevent users and developers from taking advantage of web apps, apps from alternative app stores, or sideloaded apps.
"The app economy is becoming a fundamental way that Americans interact with their environment," the request for comment explains, "Thus, it is critical that this market be robust, open, innovative, and secure—and without barriers to entry and growth."
The Federal Register is now open to comments from the public about competition in mobile app ecosystems. The information gathered as part of the investigation will be used to inform President Biden's competition agenda later this year.
Apple's ecosystem is increasingly coming under intense scrutiny by governments around the world, including in the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, the European Union, and more, with a clear appetite from global regulators to explore requirements around app sideloading and interoperability.
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