Europe loosens the straps tying Apple and Microsoft to tough antitrust rules

Did someone say a safety word? iMessage, Bing, Edge, Ads avoid gatekeeper restrictions

The European Commission has reversed its decision that some Apple and Microsoft offerings qualify as "gatekeeper services" under the Digital Markets Act (DMA), meaning the bloc’s toughest regulations won’t be applied.

The Tuesday decision means Apple's iMessage and Microsoft's Edge, Bing, and Advertising won’t be subject to DMA regulations that limit self-preferencing and require concessions to enhance competition.

Europe previously made the abovementioned services subject to the DMA when it named Apple and Microsoft alongside Alphabet, Amazon, ByteDance, and Meta in the first tranche of six gatekeepers, and listed 22 of their core platform services as falling under the DMA.

The six gatekeepers were given six months to comply with DMA obligations, which disallow the self-serving policies that major businesses enact to limit competition.

Apple appealed the designation of iMessage and iPadOS, while Microsoft appealed the designation of Edge, Bing, and Ads.

The Commission accepted the titans' rebuttals for everything save iPadOS which is still under consideration.

"Following a thorough assessment of all arguments, taking into account input by relevant stakeholders, and after hearing the Digital Markets Advisory Committee, the Commission found that iMessage, Bing, Edge and Microsoft Advertising do not qualify as gatekeeper services," the Commission explained in a statement.

With the March 6, 2024 compliance deadline approaching, some of the designated gatekeepers – such as Google – have already announced compliance plans. However, these concessions haven't all been well received by competing companies that lobbied for the regulation.

Notably, Apple last month revealed changes in its policies regarding iOS, the App Store, and Safari for users in the EU. But the options Apple is offering to allow app sideloading and other deviations from its rules for other parts of the world have elicited considerable criticism. That annoyance has yet to abate.

Matthias Pfau, CEO of secure messaging service Tuta (previously Tutanota), published a blog post on Tuesday that pillories Apple for "malicious compliance" – a term that has become a common way to describe Apple's arrogant response to the DMA.

"We are quite shocked how brazen (sic) Apple is 'complying' with the DMA," wrote Pfau. "The EU wanted to break Apple's power with the DMA, but instead the company is dancing around on the EU's nose. This shows the need for a better regulation in the interests of users – and all app developers."

Pfau revealed that Tuta will not offer its Tuta Mail app in the iOS App Store because Apple's rules are so harmful. He cites Apple's refusal to allow devs to switch back to the standard commission model if the EU-specific structure doesn't work, its Core Technology fee, and its scare screen that warns about third-party payment security for the decision.

"The current offering for allowing expensive sideloading, limited use of alternative payment methods, and deceitful scare tactics show Apple's true self: nothing more than a monopolistic bully," he concluded, adding that he hopes the Commission responds to Apple's "disrespectful act of compliance."

Apple did not respond to a request for comment. ®

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