E.U. probes Google, Apple, Meta under its new competition law


The European Commission has opened investigations into Google, Apple and Meta under a powerful new competition law that went into effect this month, in a signal of Brussels’s intention to move swiftly to rein in Big Tech.

The probes come just days after the three companies gave day-long presentations to European Union officials about the changes they were making to comply with the Digital Markets Act, or DMA, a landmark anti-monopoly law meant to prevent internet giants from using their “gatekeeper” status to foreclose competition in emerging sectors.

“We suspect that the suggested solutions put forward by the three companies do not fully comply with the DMA,” Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission’s top competition official, said in a statement Monday. “We will now investigate the companies’ compliance.”

The commission said it was investigating Google’s and Apple’s restrictions on app developers who want to sell to consumers directly, without Google or Apple as the intermediary. In addition, the commission said it is probing whether Google’s search result rankings might be unfairly favoring Google’s own services, whether Apple might be making it too hard to switch to non-Apple services on the iPhone, and whether Meta’s new requirement for E.U. customers to pay a fee to avoid data tracking is in violation of the DMA.

Oliver Bethell, Google’s competition director, said in a statement that the company had made significant changes in response to the E.U. law and would “continue to defend our approach in the coming months.” Google is a subsidiary of Alphabet.

Apple said in a statement that it was “confident our plan complies with the DMA,” and said it would continue to constructively engage with the commission. Meta said that “subscriptions as an alternative to advertising are a well-established business model” and that it too would “continue to engage constructively with the Commission.”

The commission warned Monday that the companies could face fines of up to 10 percent of their global revenue and up to 20 percent for repeat offenses.

The three companies have already made major changes in their E.U. offerings in response to the DMA. Apple has allowed third-party app stores to be operational on E.U. users’ iPhones, a first for the company. Google has introduced choice screens on new Android phones so that E.U. users aren’t automatically locked into Google’s web browser and search engine. Meta is allowing other messaging services to interconnect to WhatsApp and Messenger in the E.U.

But E.U. authorities say those changes may not be enough. A number of app developers have been furious over Apple’s and Google’s attempts to charge fees for apps used on phones running the companies’ operating systems, even if the apps are not purchased through the two companies’ app stores.

The commission said the investigations will be completed within a year.

The announcement of the probes drew criticism from some and praise from others.

Daniel Friedlaender, senior vice president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a trade group, said in a statement that the industry is concerned about how quickly the commission launched the investigations.

“The timing of these announcements, while the DMA compliance workshops are still ongoing, makes it look like the commission could be jumping the gun,” he said. “This move risks confirming industry fears that the DMA compliance process might end up being politicized.”

Gene Kimmelman, who was the Justice Department’s deputy associate attorney general earlier in President Biden’s term, said the trade groups don’t want to accept the reality that the companies are going to be regulated — “and not in slow motion.”

“Europe has really crossed the Rubicon in regulating these tech platforms,” he said. “All we’re going to get is more regulation, not less, until these markets open up.”


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