The French Competition Authority’s latest target: Google, Apple & Amazon’s App Stores.

Jul 3, 2013
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App Store Genius Bar

The French Authorité de la Concurrence is always looking to keep things balanced and safe for French consumers and professionals, and their most recent target lies in the mobile App Store. Last week, the regulatory body confirmed that a raid took place on Apple’s Paris office, though very little information about what, if anything was taken. As alluded to in GigaOm, the group, which seized at least some documents according to one employee, may be looking to dig deeper into how the App Store runs. They may also be following up on a recent charge that Apple didn’t pay taxes on iPad sales, or concerning the new proposed Cultural Tax, or even concerning reports that Apple has stockpiled its products and kept them from third party distributors, as some have claimed.

Les Echos, who originally broke the story, suggest that there are two sides to the “App Store” concern. On the one hand, there have been reports from developers and publishers that Apples price-controlling makes it difficult to make a living. Specifically, the French association of newspapers complained last year when Apple “unilaterally” raised prices on their publications across the board.

On the other side are the consumers – the French Competition Authority has expressed a concern that, once consumers start buying in one App Store, say Apple’s, they are “locked in” because leaving to the Google Play store would mean losing all apps and content they had bought in the former store.

While both sides are valid – in fact, Apple is under scrutiny today in the US over price-fixing of their eBooks and other content properties – it is hard to see through the potential honest competition concerns when there are regular complaints from French authorities about Apple. If it’s not one tax it’s another, and when they are not calling for retribution for one App’s removal from the App Store, they may actually be trying to uphold their local principals and ideas of fair competition in an ever-global world, where the de facto US law is spreading into other countries.

While we often have the urge to tell governments to ‘just stay out of the way’ of tech giants, I am seeing more & more clear examples of American interpretations of “security” “privacy” and “fair competition” being imposed on other countries around the world by virtue of the reach of American corporations, and it seems inevitable that the golden days of ‘just doing business’ globally will come to an end. We’ve already seen Twitter give in (a bit) to French government requests over differing Free Speech laws (it turns out in France you don’t have the right to say homophobic and anti-Semitic things in public – what a novel concept), and Google recently announced that appearing on Google News in Germany will be opt-in to avoid a recent law pushed through the German parliament.

It’s tough to say whether these are good or bad – truly it’s a mix of both – but it is clear looking at Europe from the inside-out or outside-in, that they will defend their identity and their beliefs of certain grey, human rights. Today, that is manifesting itself in a battle against App Stores – again, very grey human rights.