Platform and Device Neutrality Regime: The New Competition Rulebook for App Stores?
Among the numerous legislative initiatives implemented around the globe on digital platforms, some of these provisions are explicitly directed towards app stores. As they have all the distinctive features of multi-sided markets, app store owners represent the prototype of digital gatekeepers, controlling access to mobile ecosystems and competing with business users operating on the platforms. In light of the rule-setting and dual role of these gateway players, regulatory interventions are required in order to ensure that large app stores are treated like common carriers or public utilities, thereby imposing upon them a neutrality regime vis-à-vis new entrants. For the very same reasons, dominant app store providers have been subject to an increasing number of antitrust investigations attempting to ensure equal treatment and to avoid self-preferencing at the expense of rivals’ services. Against this background, the article investigates whether antitrust provisions are flexible enough to curb anti-competitive practices carried out by app stores and the extent to which regulatory interventions could, on the other hand, be necessary in order to address the seemingly unique features of the app economy.