Apple has again been fined in the Netherlands for an antitrust order linked to dating apps. The order requires it to allow local dating apps to be able to use third-party payment technologies if their developers so choose, rather than being locked down to only be able to use the in-app payment API. Apple for iOS.
Since January, the Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has imposed a series of (weekly) penalties on Apple for what it says is continued non-compliance with the order.
The latest fine of 5 million euros (the ninth) brings the total penalties against Apple on this issue to 45 million euros (out of a possible maximum of 50 million euros if it again fails to satisfy the regulator by next week).
Apple has reacted to the series of fines over this period by saying it is in compliance with the order – although the regulator clearly takes a different (opposing) view.
The ACM variously described Apple’s response as disappointing and unreasonable, accusing it of creating an unnecessary barrier for developers who wish to exercise legal rights to use non-Apple payment technology to process in-app payments, rather than to just let them choose easily. do this.
The fight has been going on for weeks but, despite yet another penalty now, there could be signs of a change from Apple: according to the ACM, Apple submitted “new proposals” earlier today – which it said to study to determine whether they are successful or not. do not.
“We will now assess the merits of these proposals,” an ACM spokesperson said in a statement. “In this context, we will also sit down with various market players. Our goal is to complete this assessment as soon as possible.
The ACM did not disclose details of what Apple is offering in this amended compliance offering. (And the regulator did not respond to requests for more details.)
“It should be noted that, until last weekend, Apple had still not met the ACM requirements,” added its spokesperson. “That’s why she has to pay a ninth penalty payment, which means that the total amount that Apple has to pay is currently 45 million euros.”
Apple has also been contacted to comment on the development, but at the time of writing the company has not responded. Update: Apple declined to comment.
While the ACM antitrust order only applies to the Netherlands, and only to a subset of apps (dating apps) – so it may look like small fry in the grand global scheme from Big Tech – the tussle between a national regulator and platform giant has drawn high-level attention in the European Union, suggesting the app is being closely watched by policymakers at one time where they simultaneously work out the final details of a major competitive overhaul.
The EU is finalizing a lengthy ex ante reform of digital competition policy (known as the Digital Markets Act, or DMA) – which will apply exclusively to the strongest internet intermediation platforms.
This is relevant as Apple is almost certain to be designated as a “gatekeeper” under the DMA – which will introduce a proactive antitrust compliance regime intended to make digital markets more open and contestable, for example by prohibiting cross-link applications platforms. or impose lockdowns, while simultaneously requiring them to support interoperability and enable service switching. So that means Apple is likely to face similar (and, indeed, much broader) pan-European antitrust orders in the future, which will stipulate how it must (and must not) act in relation to third.
EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who heads both the bloc’s antitrust division and directs its digital policy, specifically addressed the Dutch case in a speech last month – accusing Apple of “essentially” preferring to pay periodic fines rather than comply with any competition decision it makes. disagree with. She also warned that obligations related to third-party access to Apple’s App Store “will be…one of the obligations included in the DMA.”
The future pan-European law will have teeth: with fines of up to 10% of annual global turnover and the possibility for the bloc to respond to systematic non-compliance with the rules by imposing a structural remedy that orders a guardian to be dismantled.
So for tech giants who should be subject to the DMA, the “comply versus refuse” calculus – which is only possible when a penalty can be waived as a “cost of doing business” – seems ready for a radical rebalancing under the restarted EU. competition regime. And where €5m – or even €50m – doesn’t move the operational needle, a penalty of up to billions – heightened by a risk that continuing the dance around legal requirements could force regulators to reaching for their breaking hammers – looks like a whole different pot of compliance fish.