French communications regulator Arcep urged Europe-wide action to force manufacturers to reverse policies on handsets, tablets and smart speakers perceived to be limiting internet freedom.
In the results of a consultation with stakeholders in France, the regulator criticised measures put in place by manufacturers and operating system (OS) companies to direct users to approved content at the expense of other suppliers.
Under EU net neutrality regulations, internet service providers are banned from applying policies which offer preferential treatment to specific content suppliers at the detriment of others. However, Arcep said the same level of regulation is not imposed on devices themselves.
In a statement, Arcep added: “While access to the internet is now mainly via a smartphone, sold with its operating system and application store, the freedom of choice of the user is gradually reduced by limitations imposed by this equipment. Some of these limitations may be justified for reasons of ergonomics, safety or innovation. Others artificially restrict access to the internet and its proliferation.”
The organisation cited examples of consumers being unable to delete pre-installed apps, smart speakers directing users towards partner services and limitations in the functionality of app stores.
Although it noted action must be taken on a Europe-wide scale, Arcep put forward a series of proposals it believed would address issues limiting consumer choice.
Arcep wants “data-driven regulation” gathering information from end users, OS providers and manufacturers.
For app stores, it recommended comparison tools in addition to transparent indexing and ranking criteria on app stores to increase choice. On the devices themselves, it said users must be able to delete pre-installed apps easily and access products from alternative suppliers through the handset.
“The pre-installation of apps, which creates the risk of skewing internet users’ access to certain content, offers the advantage of allowing consumers to use a new device straight out of the box.” Arcep said, adding: “On the flipside, some restrictions that device manufacturers or OS providers have deliberately put into place harm the distribution of content or access to certain online services, with no proven positive counterpart and so, a priori, at end-users’ expense.”
European regulator Berec is also looking into the issue, Arcep said, with a report due to be released in the coming weeks.