If you’ve searched the App Store over the past few years, you might have noticed that Apple’s own apps often appear at the top of search results, pushing down competitors. Others have seen that too, and the New York Times has now detailed Apple’s search ranking issues in exhaustive detail. Apple executives Eddy Cue and Phil Schiller, who oversee the App Store and many of Apple’s apps in it, acknowledged Apple’s ranking advantage but denied that it was intentional. (Nor did they admit that the algorithm was poorly conceived and tested, which would seem to be the other explanation.) They insisted that the high ranking of Apple’s own apps was due to popularity and their generic names, but search ranking experts consulted by the Times were skeptical that such rankings could be organic. (Why should Apple’s Compass app ever appear in a search for “podcasts”?)
Apple has now adjusted the algorithm, but the lack of oversight for the App Store is causing problems for the company. Apple is facing complaints in Europe from streaming music competitor Spotify (see “Spotify Asks the European Commission to Make Apple Play Fair,” 13 March 2019), a class-action lawsuit in the United States over monopolistic practices (see “Supreme Court Rules Apple Antitrust Case Can Continue,” 13 May 2019), and regulatory scrutiny from both major political parties in the United States, including presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren (see “Big Tech Attracts Antitrust Attention from Senator Elizabeth Warren,” 12 March 2019).