Apple alters search algorithms to deliver fewer of its own apps: Report

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Published: September 10, 2019 11:04:34 AM

Under Apple's tight control, the App Store is the only way to install software on the iPhone, but Apple also competes with developers on the store.

AppleApple’s App Store practices have come under antitrust scrutiny in Europe. (Bloomberg photo)

Apple Inc, following antitrust scrutiny in Europe and the United States, has altered the search algorithm for its App Store so that the company’s own apps do not dominate the top positions, the New York Times reported on Monday.

Apple declined to comment on the report.

Apple made the tweaks in July, the Times reported. The newspaper performed an analysis of six years of search results that showed that Apple’s own apps ranked first for at least 700 search terms in the store since 2016. The newspaper said its analysis included rankings of more than 1,800 specific apps across 13 keywords since 2013.

After the software change in July, fewer of Apple’s own apps appeared at the top of search results, executives told the newspaper. The Wall Street Journal also published an examination of Apple’s App Store rankings that month, with similar findings that Apple’s own apps often ranked highly for generic search terms.

Apple told the Times that its apps crowded the top search listings because the company’s algorithm was designed deliver multiple apps from the developer that the user had expressed interest in.

For example, searches for the game Angry Birds might bring up other titles by the game’s maker, Rovio Entertainment. Searches for common terms such as “music” or “podcast” would return Apple Music or Apple Podcasts, along with unrelated Apple apps, forcing Apple’s competitors further down the listings.

Under Apple’s tight control, the App Store is the only way to install software on the iPhone, but Apple also competes with developers on the store.

The company’s App Store practices have come under antitrust scrutiny in Europe, where Dutch regulators are investigating whether the firm favors its own apps, and the policies are also the target of a civil lawsuit that the U.S. Supreme Court recently allowed to proceed.

The U.S. Department of Justice is also considering an Apple probe, but officials have not disclosed what they might be examining.

Apple told the Times it made the change to help users better find the apps they are looking for.

“There’s nothing about the way we run search in the App Store that’s designed or intended to drive Apple’s downloads of our own apps,” Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president who oversees the App Store, told the Times. “We’ll present results based on what we think the user wants.”

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