Press Release Platform Competition

Public Knowledge Launches Paper Urging App Stores to Prioritize Users and Developers

June 23, 2020 , , , , ,
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Today, we’re happy to announce our newest white paper, “Tending the Garden: How to Ensure that App Stores Put Users First,” by Public Knowledge Legal Director John Bergmayer. The paper stems from a platform competition research project led by Public Knowledge and supported by Omidyar Network. The paper explores the challenge of balancing the significant gatekeeper control that dominant platforms like Apple and Google have over both their operating systems and app stores, with the benefits that app stores create for both developers and users.

The paper argues that competition between platforms for users and developers cannot alone ensure that app stores and their associated software platforms will be operated in a way that promotes consumer rights, the public interest, and broader economic benefits. The paper also suggests specific measures that should be implemented by dominant app stores to promote these interests.

This paper recommends:

  • That platforms only apply in-app purchase rules to genuine app functionality that could otherwise have been a single up-front purchase; 
  • That platforms allow users to “sideload” apps but only from recognized developers (under a code-signing system that recognizes multiple certificate authorities); 
  • That platforms follow certain guardrails to ensure the ability of independent app and hardware developers to compete on an even playing field; 
  • That platforms allow archiving, emulation, and transfer of apps and digital content; and
  • That developers be given more business model flexibility, such as offering traditional free trials of paid apps, and upgrade pricing.

The following can be attributed to John Bergmayer, Legal Director at Public Knowledge:

“App stores have benefitted users and developers in many ways. However, the incentives of platforms, developers, and users do not always align, and app store and platform policies can restrict competition, remove user choice, and stand in the way of free expression. The proposals in our paper are designed to preserve the benefits of app stores while minimizing the downsides of the gatekeeper control they necessarily involve.”

You may view the paper here. You may also view our latest blog post, “Software Platforms Benefit by Empowering Developers and Putting Users First,” for more information.