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

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

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at Code Conference 2021

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is making promises ahead of the company’s biggest ever acquisition.

Asa Mathat/Vox Media

When we think of app stores, the ones that come to mind are typically those for Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android devices and maybe Amazon’s Fire tablets. But Microsoft said Wednesday that 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’s Open App Store Principles include privacy protections and transparent editorial rules, as well as a promise to hold Microsoft’s own apps to the same standards the company applies to others. Microsoft is publishing the principles in an effort to weigh in on new laws that are before the US Congress, 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 in a blog post Wednesday

In addition to its principles for its app stores, Microsoft promised that it’ll 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 said.

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

Meta, Twitter, Google, Amazon and Apple have all found themselves answering questions before congressional committees that are considering a wide array of laws, including antitrust and advertising industry reforms, to rein in the companies’ power and possibly punish perceived 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 set of principles also serves as criticism of other tech industry giants, including Apple and Google, who’ve faced harsh words over how they control their respective app stores. Microsoft said, for example, that it won’t 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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