Yesterday, Japan’s parliament passed into law a bill to promote fair competition on smartphone operating systems, similar to the EU’s Digital Markets Act and the UK’s Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill.

In particular, it prohibits Apple’s ban of third party browser engines on iOS, which is an effective ban on browsers like Firefox, Chrome, Edge, Opera, Brave & Vivaldi. Apple bans these browser vendors from choosing and modifying their own engines, and instead forces them to use Apple’s browser engine which they can’t modify and have no control over. This then ensures that there is no effective browser competition on iOS and deprives Web Apps of the functionality they need to compete with native apps.

This is the second jurisdiction (after the EU in the Digital Markets Act) to explicitly codify this into law.

Article 1: In light of the role that smartphones play in Japan as the foundation of people's lives and economic activity, this Act aims to promote fair and free competition in the field of specific software by providing prohibitions on businesses that provide specific software that is particularly necessary for smartphone use from exploiting their position as businesses that provide specific software to give the products or services they provide a competitive advantage and from causing disadvantage to the business activities of businesses that use specific software, thereby contributing to the improvement of people's lives and the sound development of the national economy. Bill on the Promotion of Competition for Specified Software Used in Smartphones
(machine translated)

The EU has pioneered new regulations in this field, and in order for the digital markets of the EU, US, and Japan to work in lockstep to set fair competition practices for platform operators, a new legal framework is also needed in the Japanese market to confront digital platform operators. Japan Fair Trade Commision

This bill was based on the Japan's Head Quarters for Digital Competition's Final Report which OWA consulted on. You can read our paper here.

The bill aims to promote fair and free competition on smartphones by preventing large tech companies from abusing their position as providers of platforms to block or advantage their own services.

Violators will face fines equivalent to 20% of the domestic revenue of the service that violated the law. The rate of the fine can be increased to 30% for repeated violations.

The final bill contains a number of interesting articles relevant to browsers and Web Apps:

  • Banning browser engines is prohibited.
  • Must share APIs and services of the operating system to the same level as the services used by the designated providers. Justifiable measures may be applied.
  • Designated providers shall make it easy to change the default settings of the operating system.
  • Designated providers shall provide a choice screen for browsers.
  • When a designated business operator sets or changes the specifications, sets or changes the conditions for use, it must take necessary measures, such as securing a period for the business operator specified in each item to smoothly respond to the measure, disclosing information, and establishing a necessary system, as specified by the Fair Trade Commission rules.

This law will go into effect at a date chosen by the government at least 1.5 years from signing. This would put the earliest date of being in force as December 12, 2025.

This is an important step to restoring browser competition to iOS and enabling Web Apps to succeed on mobile as the world's only truly interoperable app development platform. Each jurisdiction that enforces rules to enable browsers and Web Apps to compete fairly is an important step on the road to a global solution. Apple has taken some rather extreme measures to geo-fence and undermine the Digital Markets Act in the EU but as the number of jurisdictions grow, the benefits to consumers and business become clear and the scare tactics are shown to be groundless, the harder it will be to maintain and justify such tactics.

Next up, the UK, the USA and Australia

This victory wouldn't have been possible without your unwavering support. While we celebrate this important step, let's remember the fight for global browser competition continues. Stay tuned, and let's work together to ensure browser choice for all users, everywhere!

Your browser, your choice!