May 27, 2022

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Future Technology

Microsoft promises better competition in its Windows and Xbox app stores ahead of regulation

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, is making promises ahead of its biggest ever acquisition.


Asa Mathat/Vox Media

When we think of app stores, typically those for Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android and maybe Amazon’s Fire tablets come to mind. But Microsoft said Wednesday it wants to set itself apart with a series of principles it’s publicly committing to that it says will promote competition in its app stores.

The tech giant spelled out a set of “principles,” such as privacy protections and transparent editorial standards, as well as a promise to hold its own apps to the same standards it holds against others. And it was publishing these principles in an effort to weigh in on new laws before congress in Washington DC, as well as to ease concerns about its own potentially monopolistic size amid its proposed $68.7 billion acquisition of gaming giant Activision Blizzard.

“Ultimately, we believe that this principled approach will promote a more open app market and better serve our users and creators alike,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote on the company’s blog Wednesday

In addition to its principles for its app stores, Microsoft promised that it will continue to offer the top-selling war simulation franchise Call of Duty, as well as other Activision Blizzard games, on competing devices like Sony’s PlayStation and Nintendo’s Switch. “We believe this is the right thing for the industry, for gamers and for our business,” Smith added.

Microsoft’s efforts come at a time of intense scrutiny from lawmakers, regulators and everyday people around the world. The tech industry sits among the largest and most powerful companies on Earth. But a string of controversies over the spread of disinformation and hate speech over the past few years have compounded already hot debates about the industry’s approach to privacy, security and other sensitive data. 

Meta, Twitter, Google, Amazon and Apple have all found themselves answering questions before congressional committees considering a wide array of laws, including antitrust and advertising industry reforms, to reign in their perceived power and possibly punish their bad behavior.

Microsoft has largely stayed out of the crosshairs, despite having been declared a monopoly during a trial two decades ago. But its proposed purchase of Activision Blizzard, amid other significant investments in its Xbox video game division, has already raised some concerns.

In many ways, Microsoft’s 11-point commitment also serves as a criticism to other tech industry giants, including Apple and Google, who’ve faced harsh criticism over how they control their respective app stores. Microsoft said, for example, it will not require developers to use its payment system for in-app payments, something Apple and Google have defended, including in lawsuits with Fortnite maker Epic Games. 

Though Microsoft didn’t name Apple or Google directly, it did say its rules are written in reaction to the “friction” that exists today between developers, gamers and app stores across the web.

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