The EU has agreed on new laws to limit the market power of high-tech. The new Digital Markets Act (DMA) aims to blacklist anti-competitive practices and force popular messaging services such as WhatsApp, Messenger, iMessage, and others to open up and collaborate with smaller messaging platforms.
An EU press release on the issue states:
“During a close to 8-hour long trilogue (three-way talks between Parliament, Council, and Commission), EU lawmakers agreed that the largest messaging services (such as Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, or iMessage) will have to open up and interoperate with smaller messaging platforms if they so request. Users of small or big platforms would then be able to exchange messages, send files or make video calls across messaging apps, thus giving them more choice. As regards interoperability obligation for social networks, co-legislators agreed that such interoperability provisions will be assessed in the future.”
Based on this statement, it is obvious that the EU wants popular messaging services to offer interoperability with other, smaller messaging platforms. However, it is unclear whether the law will also force major messaging platforms to work together or allow users to send messages from one application to another.
If that turns out to be the case, companies like Apple and Meta will have to open their messaging ecosystems. While this could be useful for end-users and small messaging platforms, it could raise some privacy concerns. Since all major messaging applications use different encryption methods, offering interoperability while maintaining user privacy could prove challenging. To mitigate any problems, the EU will include a gradual deadline in the final agreement that will give companies a chance to implement different levels of interoperability over a period of time.
Companies that do not comply with the new rules will be fined up to 10% of their total world turnover in the previous financial year. The penalty will be increased to 20% for repeated offenses. The EU could also ban companies from taking over other companies for a certain period of time in the event of systematic violations.
Speaking about the new regulation, an Apple spokesman told The Verge that the company was “concerned that some DMA provisions would create unnecessary privacy and security vulnerabilities” for users, while other provisions could prohibit the company from “charging for intellectual property”. The spokesman added that Apple plans to “continue working with stakeholders across Europe in the hope of alleviating these vulnerabilities.”
In addition to interoperability requirements for messaging, the Digital Markets Act will break down anti-competitive practices of high technologies. The regulations will impose restrictions on combining personal data from different sources, allow users to download and install applications from third-party platforms, prohibit companies from combining services, and prevent the practice of self-preference.
It should be borne in mind that the Law on Digital Markets has not been adopted yet and that the EU has yet to finalize it, after which it will have to be approved by the Parliament and the EU Council. According to EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, the DMA should take effect “sometime in October”. Until then, the regulations could undergo additional changes and amendments.