Google and Apple's secret plan to 'work as one company'

Google and Apple’s secret plan to ‘work as one company’: Complaint to UK competition watchdog cites ‘collusion at a very senior level’ between tech giants

  • Senior Google and Apple staff colluded, online advertising campaign group has claimed 
  • Open Web organisation wants Competition and Markets Authority to investigate
  • Group has cited US regulatory filings on agreements between Californian firms
  • It says they are creating ‘walled gardens of apps stores’ and stifling innovation 

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority has been urged to investigate concerns contained in US lawsuit papers that Google and Apple are actively collaborating to drive search revenue growth.

In a complaint about changes to the use of data in Apple’s app store, online campaign group Marketers For An Open Web (MOW) has cited documents from a US Department of Justice lawsuit last October which was backed by 11 states.

These quoted an internal email saying senior Google and Apple staff discussed a ‘vision that we work as if we are one company’ when looking at search income.

The US lawsuit followed huge pressure from regulators, smaller search engines such as DuckDuckGo and app developers concerned about high fees and complex rules. 

And MOW has now quoted from what it claims to be evidence in the US of ‘collusion at a very senior level between Apple and Google in relation to overall strategy’.

The group, which is backed by advertising and news publishing companies, has cited US regulatory filings on agreements between the firms, and now wants the CMA to request internal documents from the companies on meetings.

MOW said in its complaint that the California-based tech giants are both creating ‘walled gardens of apps stores’ and stifling innovation on the open web. 

A sign is pictured outside the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, in May 2019

It quoted a senior Apple employee writing to their equivalent at Google following a meeting in 2018 that ‘our vision is that we work as if we are one company’.

The group claims Apple makes most of its income from selling devices, but it also receives about £9billion ($12billion) a year from Google for the provision of search. 

MOW says Google’s side of the deal ‘means that data received is even more valuable to Google than data arising from Google search on Android products’.

It says this is because Apple users’ searches and search histories represent data from users not otherwise using Google products.

MOW says: ‘The addition of a major competing source of users’ data increases the touch points that Google receives concerning all users, reinforcing and supporting its market power over the total user base of all devices accessing the web.’

The Apple logo is seen hanging at the entrance to an Apple store in New York in October 2019

It said the Apple data was ‘missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle about all users, giving Google unique insight into overall markets and their trends and developments’.

The group also suggested the firms have a ‘mutually reinforcing interest in stifling innovation and applications developments from being supplied over the Open Web’.

Google and Apple are understood to have a contract for the Google search engine to be the default engine on Apple’s Safari browser and other search access points.

It comes after the CMA launched a probe into Apple over complaints that its terms and conditions for app developers were unfair and anti-competitive.

The CMA said on March 4 that it would look into concerns that Apple uses its dominant position over the distribution of apps on Apple devices in the UK.

Apple’s App Store is the only way for developers to distribute apps onto its system

Apple controls the App Store, which is the only way for developers to distribute apps onto Apple’s system and the only way for the public to access them.

The CMA will seek to establish if Apple has acted unfairly and as a result meant users had less choice or have had to pay higher prices for apps and additional content.

The watchdog said it launched its investigation after carrying out its own work in the sector, as well as in response to concerns raised by developers over this set-up.

Apple is currently also facing anti-trust investigations by the European Commission related to the App Store and is the subject of legal complaints from Fortnite maker Epic Games in the US that Apple has abused its market position.

The US Department of Justice alleged in its lawsuit last year that Google and Apple work as ‘one company’ on search engines through exclusive paid deals. 

Apple, Google and the CMA have all been contacted for comment by MailOnline.

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