EU Passes Online Platform Rules: How ASO Will Be Affected

The European Union passed a new set of regulations, targeting digital platforms. These new rules will have a significant impact on the digital market, including the App Store and Google Play Store. When the regulations are implemented, it will provide app developers with more leverage and insight into the workings of the stores, including ranking information that is essential for App Store Optimization.

 Online Platform Regulations

The EU’s new policy is designed with the intent of creating a lawful and innovative online ecosystem. According to the EU, the guiding principles of the policy are:

1. A level playing field for comparable digital services;

2. Ensuring that online platforms behave responsibly to protect core values;

3. Fostering trust, transparency and ensuring fairness;

4. Keeping markets open and non-discriminatory to foster a data-driven economy.

To achieve those ends, the European Parliament approved “the new Regulation on platform-to-business trading practices that is aimed at establishing a fair, trusted and innovation-driven environment for businesses and traders when using online platforms.”

This has been made more necessary by accusations of anti-competition and antitrust behavior levied against Apple and Google. The rules target approximately 7,000 online platforms, but the ones primarily impacted will be online retailers such as Amazon and eBay, as well as Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store.

According to the EU’s factsheet, businesses selling their products and services on online platform creates 22% of the value of e-commerce, which was valued at €530 billion ($595 billion) in 2016 alone. Approximately 46% of business users experience problems with online intermediation services, but that number increases to 75% for businesses generating more than half of their turnover via online platforms.

The new rules establish “common P2B rules based on transparency, dispute resolution and monitoring” to improve regulatory predictability, legal certainty for platforms and online search engines. This includes:

1. Terms and Conditions must be written in plain and intelligible language, and business users must be informed of any modifications with at least 15 days’ notice.

2. Providers of online intermediation services (such as app stores) must provide businesses with reasons for restricting or suspending their products and services.

3. Providers of intermediation services and online search engines (including App Store searches) must inform businesses about the main parameters determining how goods and services are ranked.

4. Service providers should be transparent on how they treat their own good and services, compared to those of their users.

5. Online platforms must have complaint handling mechanisms, while business users will have easy access to out-of-court dispute settlements.

Additionally, the EU established an Observatory of the Online Platform Economy to monitor “online economy trends, evolution of trading practices, development of national policies, regulatory approaches [and] non-regulatory measures.”

App Store Optimization

As many of these new regulations impact the App Store and Play Store, there are some key points app developers should be aware of.

Perhaps the most important aspect for ASO is that online search engines must let businesses know what their ranking parameters are. This is incredibly valuable for App Store Optimization, as the information can be used in conjunction with existing ASO software to gain additional insights into how the stores and their algorithms work. With this understanding, developers can utilize the results of their App Store Optimization strategies to further refine their apps and listings in accordance to the ranking parameters.

Google and Apple have held the secret workings of their algorithms tightly, so they are unlikely to reveal any more than they are legally required to. App Store Optimization software will still be necessary to utilize the insights into their ranking parameters, including tracking keyword growth, determining keyword search volume and providing the necessary insights for designing an optimized app listing. App Store Optimization best practices and strategies can be further refined based on the parameters, and when coupled with ASO software and services, developers can better compete for high rankings within searches.

The EU’s Online Platforms Factsheet mentioned that, for web search, “the top 5 search results attract 88% of clicks.” While the exact percentage may vary on App Store searches, the rules were written with an understanding that appearing near the top of searches is essential for online success.

Requiring online intermediation service providers to be transparent as to how they treat their goods and services helps address recent complaints levied against the App Store and Play Store. Apple has been accused of not following its own guidelines for its subscription services, while both stores have been under scrutiny for allegedly favoring their own apps. If this is the case, Apple and Google must be upfront about it.

The regulations regarding suspension means that app developers cannot have their accounts closed without being provided with a reason. This is similar to Google’s new policy regarding appeals and transparency towards closing developer accounts. It can also help developers from having their apps erroneously removed from the stores, such as when Apple tried purging gambling apps and accidentally removed several unrelated apps in the process.

What Happens Now

The new regulations will have to be approved by a council of member states. Once that happens, they will likely go into effect in 2020. As such, Apple and Google have time to prepare their policies and behavior in accordance to the legislation before it becomes the law. Once it does, it will have a major impact on the App Store and Google Play Store, but the impact will be in favor of developers.

New insight and transparency into the workings of the stores can be utilized with existing App Store Optimization software to help developers optimize their apps further, which will provide new opportunities to succeed. The information will make ASO software and services even more necessary and valuable.

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