theCourseForum Blog: Improving Student Outreach and Increasing Course Guidance with a Publication; Evaluating the Apple App Store: How Apple Leverages Market Power for Anti-Competitive Conduct and How Regulators Can Change It

Le Menestrel, Jules, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Graham, Daniel, EN-Comp Science Dept, University of Virginia
Wayland, Kent, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Neeley, Kathryn, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

A platform’s designers can influence and limit how users interact with each other and the content they generate by using vertical control and market power. This was demonstrated in both my STS research project and, surprisingly, the project behind my technical report as well. In recent years, questions about the responsibilities of “big tech” have emerged on all fronts. Having a prior interest in consumer electronics like smartphones, I decided to research Apple’s software strategy surrounding the Apple App Store. My research investigated if the Apple App Store has monopolistic characteristics and if it uses that power for anti-competitive practices, and if so how it could be changed. In my technical report project, I developed a blog feature for theCourseForum, a course review site specifically for University of Virginia students, allowing the marketing team to write articles providing new course insights and advice for students browsing the site. Both projects describe multi-faceted systems in which users are a big part of both the production and generation of content. Sociotechnical frameworks are crucial for looking at these technologies in context.

The technical portion of my thesis covered the production of a blog that will be a part of theCourseForum, a website and student organization I am a part of where students write and read reviews for courses they have taken. When the blog is launched, it will show posts written by theCourseForum’s marketing team, which will provide course advice using insights from our review data. We used the Django framework with an engine that converts Markdown, a simple markup language, into HTML that is rendered on the web page. We also provide a no-code admin interface for the team to edit and post articles. This project will increase theCourseForum’s user engagement by bringing students to the site longer and more often. It will also make theCourseForum feel more personal and transparent, especially as many students do not know that theCourseForum is made by other students.

In my STS research, I examined the Apple App Store, evaluating its overwhelming market power and anticompetitive conduct enabled by it. As evidence, I used research papers combined with judicial and legislative material from court cases and investigative reports. These showed that multiple features of the App Store are anti-competitive, including the 30% commission fee Apple takes on all in-app purchases, the anti-steering policy limiting alternative payment options, and Apple’s self-preferencing of its own apps. I also analyzed the App Store with actor-network theory (ANT), showing that Apple positioned the App Store as the obligatory point of passage (OPP) between Apple users and developers. As the only way to browse and download iOS apps, Apple maintains broad control over both consumers and developers. In my paper, I recommend changes that regulators could implement including opening up the App Store to other payment methods and allowing competitor stores. These would reduce the power of Apple as an OPP in the network and make the App Store more equitable.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
apple, app store, monopoly, blog, django
Issued Date: