The European Union is pressing ahead with legislation to heavily regulate companies like Apple, setting plans to force “gatekeepers” to open up access to hardware and software, and even set up an internal department to meet new rules, according to an endorsed agreement from the European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee.
The provisional agreement on the Digital Markets Act (DMA) was reached earlier this week by EU governments, with 43 votes in favor, one against, and one abstention, showing a broad consensus from European lawmakers to aggressively regulate big tech companies. Apple is almost certain to be classified as a “gatekeeper” and be affected by the regulation due to the size of its annual turnover in the EU, its ownership and operation of platforms with a large number of active users, and its “entrenched and durable position” due to how long it has met these criteria, and will therefore be subject to the rules set out in the DMA.
The DMA could force Apple to make major changes to the App Store, Messages, FaceTime, third-party browsers, and Siri in Europe. For example, it could be forced to allow users to install third-party app stores and sideload apps, give developers the ability to closely interoperate with Apple’s own services and promote their offers outside the App Store and use third-party payment systems, and access data gathered by Apple.
One of the more recent additions to the DMA is the requirement to make messaging, voice-calling, and video-calling services interoperable. The interoperability rules theoretically mean that Meta apps like WhatsApp or Messenger could request to interoperate with Apple’s iMessage framework, and Apple would be forced to comply.
The latest provisional agreement sets out plans to establish a “High-Level Group” of central European digital regulators to coordinate national regulators across EU member states and requires “gatekeepers” to create an independent “compliance function.” The new group must include compliance officers to monitor their company’s compliance with EU legislation using sufficient authority, resources, and access to management, and be headed by an “independent senior manager with distinct responsibility for the compliance function.” The rule would effectively require companies like Apple to set up a department internal dedicated to meeting pro-competition regulations.
In addition, new rules specifically targeted to address companies like Apple that have “a dual role” with control over both hardware and software look to allow any developer to gain access to any existing hardware feature, such as “near-field communication technology, secure elements and processors, authentication mechanisms, and the software used to control those technologies.” This could have major implications for the level of integration that developers can achieve on Apple platforms, such as allowing contactless payment services to operate on the iPhone and Apple Watch just like Apple Pay.
EU lawmakers provisionally approved the DMA in March. Next, the proposals will be put to a final vote in the European Parliament in July before being formally adopted by the European Council and published in the EU Official Journal. 20 days after publication, the DMA will come into force and affected companies will have six months to comply.
Beyond the European Union, Apple’s ecosystem is increasingly coming under intense scrutiny by governments around the world, including in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and more, with a clear appetite from global regulators to explore requirements around app sideloading and interoperability.
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