HomeInsightsUK regulator publishes view of “super-apps”


Online communications services fall within the remit of the UK regulator, Ofcom. These include apps and websites which primarily provide private messaging and calling services (e.g. WhatsApp and Snapchat), as well as services offering instant messaging as part of a broader social media service (e.g. Facebook and Instagram).

On 7 February 2024, Ofcom published an article highlighting the trend of online communications service providers expanding the scope of their services, such as Facebook offering shopping and gaming or Uber offering grocery delivery and travel reservations as well as car rides. Sometimes these “super-apps” contain mini programs, in some cases published by third parties, that offer additional services. The article explores the regulatory issues potentially posed by super-apps.

The wider range of functionalities offered by super-apps could potentially increase the risk of users being exposed to illegal harms (e.g. online fraud, phishing and scams), an area regulated by the Online Safety Act 2023 and on which Ofcom is currently consulting (as previously reported by Wiggin). Super-apps could also raise competition concerns. Consumers relying on them to provide multiple functions may find it hard to switch from one service provider to another, creating barriers to entry for new businesses, and the owners might give favourable treatment to their own services and only allow third party services on the app if they are not close competitors.  Resilience of super apps is another issue to consider as is data privacy. Super apps could increase the seriousness of data breaches by reason of the centralisation of data in a single provider or could enhance privacy by offering a centralised consent management process or interface rather than users having to manage their privacy preferences across multiple apps.

Ofcom states that it will continue to monitor developments in this area including via the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum.

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