EU Policy. Apple, Facebook, Google investigated under Brussels’ Digital Markets Act

Commissioners Margrethe Vestager and Thierry Breton
Commissioners Margrethe Vestager and Thierry Breton Copyright European Union, 2024
Copyright European Union, 2024
By Romane ArmangauCynthia Kroet
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The probes come days after new rules to curb the power of dominant online platforms took effect.

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The European Commission today (25 March) opened non-compliance investigations into Apple, Meta, and Google’s parent company Alphabet, just a few weeks after new EU market-dominance rules extended to cover online giants.

The EU executive is looking at whether Google’s search results favour its own products, at Apple’s new app business model, and at Meta’s "pay or consent" norms under which Facebook users can pay a monthly fee to avoid targeted ads.

"We suspect that the proposed solutions put forward by these companies do not fully comply” with the Digital Markets Act (DMA), a new EU law which took effect on 7 March, commission vice-president Margarethe Vestager told reporters. “We will investigate their compliance to ensure open and competitive digital markets in Europe.”

Jumping the gun?

For CCIA Europe, a trade organisation representing digital platforms, the investigation seems hasty.

"It looks like the commission could be jumping the gun,” Head of CCIA Europe, Daniel Friedlaender, said in a statement. “This move risks confirming industry fears that the DMA compliance process might end up being politicised.”

But EU Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton said the probes are “not unexpected” for the companies. "We spent a considerable amount of time preparing them; no one was caught off guard,” Breton added.

Apple considers its practice is compliant with the DMA, a spokesperson told Euronews, adding that it had “demonstrated flexibility and responsiveness to the European Commission and developers, listening and incorporating their feedback."

A spokesperson for Meta said the company “will continue to engage constructively with the commission,” adding that its subscription service was designed to address regulatory obligations including the DMA.

Alphabet, the parent company of Google, also said it has made changed to comply with the DMA. "We have engaged with the European Commission, stakeholders and third parties in dozens of events over the past year to receive and respond to feedback, and to balance conflicting needs within the ecosystem. We will continue to defend our approach in the coming months," Oliver Bethell, Director for Competition said. 

The executive aims to conclude the investigations within twelve months, which could result in these companies facing a fine of up to 10% of their worldwide turnover.

The commission said it has also asked clarification regarding Apple's new fee structure for alternative app stores and Amazon's ranking practices on its online marketplace.

The DMA designates major online services – which also include e-commerce site Amazon.com, TikTok owner ByteDance, and Microsoft – as gatekeepers which are large digital platforms that provide an important gateway between business users and consumers.

This story has been updated to include Alphabet's comments.

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