How Europe’s regulatory battle with Apple could signal what’s to come for American consumers

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LONDON — It’ll likely take years before the U.S. government’s massive antitrust lawsuit against Apple is resolved — but the iPhone maker’s troubles with European regulators offer a glimpse of what changes American customers may see down the line.

The U.S. lawsuit seeks to stop Apple from undermining technologies that compete with its own apps in areas such as streaming, messaging and digital payments. The Department of Justice also wants to prevent the tech giant from building language into its contracts with developers, accessory makers and consumers that lets it obtain or keep a monopoly.

These are similar to themes that the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm and top antitrust enforcer, and Apple have been wrangling over for years.

EU antitrust watchdogs have launched multiple antitrust cases accusing Apple of violating the 27-nation bloc’s competition laws, while also imposing tough digital rules aimed at stopping tech companies from cornering digital markets.

Brussels’ efforts will soon start to have an impact on the way the company does business and the experience iPhone users have in Europe. And the changes could signal what’s to come for U.S. Apple users — if the Justice Department has its way, at least.

Here’s a closer look:

Music streaming users typically weren’t able to pay for their Spotify subscriptions directly through their iPhone apps. They couldn’t even be informed by email of subscription prices, promos and offers by Spotify or other music streaming services. That’s because Apple puts tight restrictions on apps that compete with its own Apple Music service.

But when Spotify complained to the European Union, antitrust regulators opened a yearslong investigation that resulted in an order for Apple to stop such behavior and came with a whopping 1.8 billion euro ($2 billion) fine aimed at deterring the company from doing it again.

Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission’s competition chief, said Apple’s practices were “illegal” and “impacted millions of European consumers who were not able to make a free choice as to where, how and at what price to buy music streaming subscriptions.”

Apple tried to resolve a second EU antitrust case by proposing to let third party mobile wallet and payment service providers access the tap and go payment function on its iOS operating system.

Apple offered the concession to the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm and top antitrust enforcer, after it accused the company in 2022 of abusing its dominant position by limiting access to its mobile payment technology.

The commission had been examining whether Apple Pay’s rules require online shops to make it the preferred or default option, effectively shutting out rival payment systems. It had also been investigating concerns that it limits access for rival payment systems to the contactless payment function on iPhones.

The commission is still mulling the offer. It has been seeking feedback from “interested parties” on the proposals before making a decision on the case.

Apple has long maintained that there can be only one app marketplace — its own — on iPhones and other iOS devices. But a sweeping set of new EU regulations that recently took effect has forced the company to open up its so-called “walled garden” and allow third-party app stores to compete.

The EU’s Digital Markets Act is a broad rulebook that targets Big Tech “gatekeeper” companies with a set of do’s and don’ts that they’ll have to abide by. One of its goals is to break up closed tech ecosystems that lock consumers into one company’s products or services.

Under the DMA, tech companies won’t be able to stop consumers from connecting with businesses outside their platforms. So Apple has been forced to allow people in Europe to download iPhone apps from stores not operated by the U.S. tech giant — a move it’s long resisted.

In a sign of that reluctance, EU regulators said they wanted to question Apple over accusations that it blocked video game company Epic Games from setting up its own app store. But Apple later reversed course and cleared the way for Fortnite maker Epic to set up its rival app store.

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AP journalist Barbara Ortutay contributed to this story.

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