Antitrust law could ban pre-installed Apple apps in Europe

Draft European Union legislation raises the possibility that pre-installed Apple apps might be banned in Europe. Instead, consumers would be offered the option of installing them, creating a more level playing field between Apple and third-party developers offering competing apps.

The Digital Services Act also proposes to apply limits to the powers of ‘gatekeeper platforms’ like Apple’s App Store

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The Financial Times report indicates that this is an early draft with rather vague language.

The draft recommends that Big Tech might be prohibited from favoritism of their own services on their websites or platforms, to the hinderance of competitors, which business ought to not be enabled to pre-install their own applications on hardware gadgets, such as laptop computers or phones, or force other business to solely pre-install their software application.

Separately, Brussels desires big platforms to let users uninstall any pre-installed apps on gadgets such as mobile phones and computers, according to the draft, which remains in its early phases.

iPhones of course come with a range of pre-installed Apple apps. For a long time, there was no way to uninstall them, leading users to stuff them into a folder like Unused Apps. As of iOS 11, Apple offered the ability to remove most stock apps, other than those needed for core functionality like the Camera and App Store apps.

iOS 14 goes further, in allowing people to change the default web browser and email apps. Both steps were an attempt by Apple to fend off antitrust actions by regulators.

It may be that these steps will be sufficient to satisfy lawmakers, but the draft act does recommend going further than this in suggesting that tech giants ought not to be allowed to pre-install their apps in the first place, where third-party competitor apps exist.

While this would be fairer to third-party developers, Apple will of course argue that the pre-installed apps are part of the iPhone experience, and that a large part of the reason people choose Apple devices is for the tight integration between hardware and software.

Other sections of the proposed law would place limits on what ‘gatekeepers’ are allowed to do, a term which is likely to include the App Store.

Earlier this month, Thierry Breton, the French commissioner for the internal market, informed the Financial Times that the EU was preparing a blacklist of behaviours that so-called gatekeeper platforms would be required to eliminate from their service practices […]

So-called gatekeeper platforms, those business that wield substantial power since they run the websites or markets that others utilize to operate, ought to just be able to utilize the data they gather for narrow functions. 

“Gatekeepers shall not use data received from business users for advertising services for any other purpose other than advertising service,” the draft seen by the Financial Times stated.

Regulators are also said to be concerned that antitrust actions against tech giants may have limited impact. They say that some companies are ‘too big to care,’ and will happily drag out disputes for years, knowing that they are unlikely to have to make major concessions.

The EU has opened a lengthy public consultation designed to determine priorities for the legislation. Consumers and business alike can respond.

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Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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