The French Competition Authority (FCA) is currently investigating the mobile app market. In the context of the publication of the 2012 Annual Report, FCA’s President Bruno Lasserre revealed that the authority is concerned about the current structure of the mobile app market, which operates in “silos”, i.e., ecosystems built on a smartphone/tablet OS (e.g., Apple iOS) and the OS supplier’s app store (e.g., App Store). Specifically, the FCA is investigating to what extent users remain free to “port” apps between ecosystems, or rather they are “locked-in” in the ecosystem that they first chose, because they need to repurchase apps if they switch between mobile OSs.
Mr. Lasserre made it clear that the FCA is currently not targeting a particular company, and has only launched a preliminary investigation regarding the OS ecosystems and app stores run by Google, Apple, and Blackberry. The FCA is aiming to conclude the investigation by the end of the year and decide whether to open antitrust proceedings against particular companies or push for an industry-wide policy.
The FCA’s investigation is related to another inquiry opened earlier this year by the FCA examining whether unfair restrictions are imposed on developers and sellers of apps. That inquiry followed a complaint from Geste, an association of French online publishers, about the terms that Apple imposed on those acquiring a presence in the App Store. Further, in the last week of June the FCA conducted dawn raids of Apple and Ingram Micro relating to Apple’s distribution practices. These raids followed the Requests for Information that the Commission sent to Mobile Network Operators asking for details of Apple’s distribution agreements (particularly relating to allegations that Apple imposes minimum volume and related requirements).
These probes make clear that the FCA is interested in a number of aspects of the mobile app market. While there is currently no similar probe at EU level, in November 2012 Commissioner Almunia said that the Commission was “looking into the way some platforms have established or are establishing a relationship with the ‘app’ industry, or the creation of apps” and more recently, members of the European Parliament have flagged the issue.