Apple was fined again in the Netherlands for a dating app antitrust order. As a result of the order, local dating apps can now use third-party payment technologies rather than just Apple’s in-app payment API for iOS.
Apple has been hit with weekly penalties since January by the Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) for allegedly not complying with the mandate.
The fresh €5 million charge increases Apple’s total penalties to €45 million (out of a maximum of €50 million if it fails to satisfy the regulator by next week).
To the string of fines during the period, Apple has claimed compliance, despite the regulator’s clear (opposite) opinion.
The ACM has called Apple’s answer unsatisfactory and unjustified, accusing it of putting an unnecessary hurdle in the way of developers who wish to utilise non-Apple payment software to process in-app payments.
The battle has lasted weeks, but despite another penalty, there may be a move by Apple: Apple reportedly submitted “new proposals” earlier today, which the ACM is reviewing.
“We will now evaluate the suggestions’ substance,” an ACM spokeswoman said. “We will also meet with market participants in that context. Our goal is to do this assessment quickly.”
The ACM hasn’t specified what Apple’s modified compliance offer consists of. It did not respond to demands for more information.
“Apple had not met ACM’s requirements until last weekend,” the official continued. “Apple must now pay a ninth penalty payment, bringing the total amount due to €45 million.”
Apple was also asked for comment, but has not yet answered. Apple declined to comment.
While the ACM’s antitrust order only applies to the Netherlands and a small subset of apps (dating apps), the battle between a national regulator and a platform giant has garnered high-level attention in the European Union, indicating that policymakers are closely monitoring the enforcement at a time when they are also finalising a major competitive agreement.
An ex ante reform of digital competition legislation (the Digital Markets Act; nicknamed, the DMA) is nearing completion in the EU.
Because Apple is very certainly going to be designated a “gatekeeper” under the DMA, a proactive antitrust compliance regime will be implemented, aimed at making digital markets more open and competitive, while also requiring platforms to support interoperability and service switching. So, in the future, Apple may face similar (and broader) pan-EU antitrust orders dictating how it must (and must not) conduct towards third parties.
In a speech last month, EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager accused Apple of preferring to pay recurring fines rather than comply with a competition order it disagreed with. She also warned that third-party access to Apple’s App Store “will be one of the DMA’s obligations.”
The new EU-wide law will be tough: With fines of up to 10% of yearly global revenue and the possibility of a structural remedy ordering a business to be split up.
As a result, the “comply vs deny” calculus, which is only achievable when a penalty is written off as a “cost of doing business,” appears to be rebalancing for tech firms subject to the DMA. Where €5 million — or even €50 million — doesn’t make a difference, a penalty of several billions of dollars, accompanied by the danger of authorities breaking up the company, looks like a new kettle of compliance fish.