Europe New Battleground in Fight Against Platform Monopolies

In Apple’s ongoing antitrust woes, the locus of the company’s legal concerns is increasingly moving from the U.S. to Europe as investigations by EU and U.K. authorities call for changes to Apple policies.

Meanwhile, although the company is sometimes praised for having less monopolistic business practices than its rival, Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is nonetheless in European hot water of its own.

For both companies, pressure from competition watchdogs on the continent stems from the way Apple and Alphabet impose strict limitations on how platform users can monetize their content, making it difficult or impossible for creators not to give a cut to the Big Tech giants.

Since 2010, the European Commission has initiated a number of antitrust investigations into Google’s business in the bloc, alleging that the company abuses its market dominance in breach of the EU’s competition laws.

To date, three investigations have resulted in formal charges against Alphabet, which has been fined over €8 billion by the commission.

Read more: Netherlands Watchdog Group to Probe Google’s Play Store Policies

Most recently, Alphabet has offered to let rival ad intermediaries place ads on YouTube to address a crucial part of an EU antitrust investigation into whether the world’s largest video platform was giving itself an unfair advantage by restricting access to user data. And according to people with knowledge of the investigation, the move may allow Alphabet to settle the case without further fines, Reuters reported.

Apple’s European Trouble

Just when it seemed that Apple’s fight against antitrust suits was coming to an end, a series of recent announcements shows that the case is far from closed on the company’s app store monetization model.

While the multiyear battle between Apple and Epic Games appears to be over, for now, Apple’s restrictive app store policies aren’t in the clear just yet.

Read also: Epic Files Motion to Stop Google From Pulling Bandcamp From Play Store

The decision by the company in 2021 to reduce the percentage commission it charges on in-app payments seems to have done little to appease app developers, who have long argued that Apple’s App Store policies inhibit competition and ultimately stifle innovation.

Related: Apple Uses Developer Revenues to Defend App Store Practices

In light of these complaints, many app developers may be pleased with recent developments in Germany, where the country’s competition regulatory agency, Bundeskartellamt, has announced that it is investigating an iOS framework called App Tracking Transparency (ATT).

Learn more: Apple App Tracking Rules Draw German Antitrust Scrutiny

ATT requires third-party apps to request permission from iOS users to track their digital activity for ad targeting. Objections on the grounds of anti-competitiveness stem from the fact that Apple itself is not subject to its own rules.

The Bundeskartellamt investigation will be watched closely by authorities in France and Poland, who have voiced similar concerns over the way ATT is used by Apple to erect unfair barriers for other companies.

Mobile Duopoly

Outside of the EU, the U.K.’s competition watchdog has published its final report on a comprehensive investigation into what it deems the monopolistic practices of Big Tech mobile platforms. The report reaffirms the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) concerns over the way Apple and Google unfairly leverage their status as gatekeepers to the mobile ecosystem.

The report succinctly summarizes many app developers’ issues with the state of the current app store market as follows: “Apple prohibits other app stores and sideloading on iOS. Google allows alternatives, yet the outcome on Android is much the same, in part due to material barriers to entry and expansion faced by rival app stores.”

Because the U.K. government has delayed passing reforms that would grant the CMA greater enforcement powers, the report acknowledges that many of the authority’s concerns are unlikely to be addressed soon.

Related: UK’s Digital Strategy Is to Be the Anti-EU Regulator

In a post-Brexit regulatory twist, it seems probable that the EU will be first off the mark when it comes to clamping down on the mobile duopoly, a move that would force Google and Apple to change their policies and make further legal action in the U.K. unnecessary.


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