© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A 3D printed Google logo is placed on the Apple Macbook in this illustration taken April 12, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A 3D printed Google logo is placed on the Apple Macbook in this illustration taken April 12, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

The European Union on Monday launched investigations into Alphabet, Apple and Meta for potentially breaching a landmark new law designed to prevent Big Tech having an unfair advantage over competitors.

Last year, Brussels designated six companies as “gatekeepers” under the Digital Markets Act (DMA), meaning they were big and powerful enough to warrant extra regulation: Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta, Microsoft and TikTok owner ByteDance.

They were given six months, until March 7, to comply with the rules, which aim to open up commonly used popular tech platforms and give users greater choice.

Violations could result in fines of as much as 10% of a company’s global annual turnover. The EU Commission hopes to wrap up the probes within a year.

Below is a rundown on main areas of the investigation:


Two of the five investigations relate to Alphabet and Apple’s payment systems, specifically around “anti-steering” behaviour.

Whenever you make an in-app purchase on an iPhone or an Android device – such as ordering food for delivery or upgrading to the premium version of Strava – Apple or Alphabet will usually take a cut of the fee.

To get around this, app developers sometimes “steer” consumers towards their own websites, encouraging them to make payments to them directly so they can swerve the big tech companies’ extra charges.

Apple has already been accused of anti-steering behaviour.

The EU fined the tech giant $2 billion earlier this month over claims it had blocked users of music streaming services from accessing discounts and promotions outside its own payments ecosystem. Brussels’ move was cheered by Spotify, which has accused Apple of blocking rivals from sharing perks with their subscribers.


In bricks-and-mortar retail, supermarkets sometimes sell cheaper own-brand alternatives on the shelves next to pricier goods.

That becomes more complicated with online marketplaces, where tech companies have been accused of displaying their own products more prominently than those of their rivals, giving themselves an unfair competitive edge.


Another of the EU’s five investigations concerns whether Google prioritises its own services – such as Google Hotels or Google Flights – when users type queries into its search engine, potentially limiting business for rivals such as Booking.com or Skyscanner.

The EU said on Monday it was also looking into whether Amazon was giving preference to its own products in its online store over rivals, but stopped short of launching an investigation.


Under the DMA, Apple was supposed to make it easy for device users to uninstall software and change default settings, such as their go-to web browser or search engine.

The EU said it was concerned the company had not made such choice as easy as it should be for users, and would investigate.

The law also requires gatekeepers’ platforms to gain explicit consent from users when they intend to combine a person’s data across different platforms, such as Meta’s Facebook and Instagram.

In an attempt to comply with the rules, Meta introduced a “pay or be tracked” policy, which would charge consumers who do not consent to their data being collected and combined like this 9.99 euros ($10.82) for ad-free versions of the apps.

Following questions over the subscription package’s legality, Meta last week said it could reduce the fee to 5.99 euros.


Google, which made significant changes to its services ahead of the deadline, said it would defend its approach in the coming months. Apple said it was confident its plan complied with the DMA.

A Meta spokesperson said the company was trying to comply with the act’s guidance.

“Subscriptions as an alternative to advertising are a well-established business model across many industries, and we designed Subscription for No Ads to address several overlapping regulatory obligations, including the DMA,” Meta said.

($1 = 0.9233 euros)

Apple, Alphabet’s Google and Meta Platforms will be investigated for potential breaches of the EU’s new Digital Markets Act, European antitrust regulators said on Monday, potentially leading to hefty fines for the companies. The European Union law, effective from March 7, aims to challenge the power of the tech giants by making it easier for people to move between competing online services like social media platforms, internet browsers and app stores. That should in turn open up space for smaller companies to compete.

Violations could result in fines of as much as 10% of the companies’ global annual turnover. U.S. antitrust regulators are also challenging Big Tech over alleged anti-competitive practices in a crackdown that could even lead to companies being broken up.


At issue is whether Apple complies with obligations to allow users to easily uninstall software applications on its iOS operating system, to change default settings on iOS or access choice screens allowing them to switch to a rival browser or search engine on iPhones.

Another concern for regulators is “steering”: whether Apple imposes limitations that hinder app developers from informing users about offers outside its App Store free of charge.

Apple said it was confident its plan complied with the DMA, adding that it had shown responsiveness to the Commission and developers throughout the process and incorporated their feedback into its changes. Regulators say the anti-steering issue also applies to Alphabet. The investigation will examine whether it favours its vertical search engines such as Google Shopping, Google Flights and Google Hotels over rivals, and whether it discriminates against third-party services on Google search results.



The Commission also singled out Apple and Alphabet’s fee structures, saying they went against the DMA’s “free of charge” requirement. Both companies recently introduced new fees for some services.

Breton said Meta, which introduced a no-ads subscription service in Europe last November that has triggered criticism from rivals and users, should offer free alternative options.

A Meta spokesperson said the company was endeavouring to comply with the act’s guidance.

The Commission is also taking steps to investigate Apple’s new fee structure for alternative app stores and Amazon’s ranking practices on its marketplace.

Amazon is another DMA “gatekeeper”, along with Microsoft and TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance.

“Amazon is compliant with the Digital Markets Act and has engaged constructively with the European Commission on our plans since the designation of two of our services,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “We continue to work hard every day to meet all of our customers’ high standards within Europe’s changing regulatory environment.”

The EU executive, which aims to wrap up the investigations within a year, the timeframe set out under the DMA, said it has ordered the companies to retain certain documents, allowing them to access relevant information in its current and future probes.

The EU investigations came amid escalating criticism from apps developers and business users about shortcomings in the companies’ compliance efforts.

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