Apple faces a special antitrust abuse regime in Germany

by Ana Lopez

The German antitrust authority today confirmed that Apple passes the test for special controls against abuse – which are supposedly “critical to competition between markets”. The designation is for five years.

“The company has a dominant or at least powerful position at all vertically related levels based on its smartphones, tablets and smartwatches, as well as proprietary operating systems and the App Store, the only available digital distribution platform for apps and other software products. to both app publishers and users on Apple devices,” it wrote in a press release.

“Based on this tight proprietary vertical structure and an installed base of more than 2 billion active devices worldwide, Apple operates in many ways across interconnected market levels and business areas and is therefore able to bind its users together . its complex long-term ecosystem. That comes with a strong power to set rules for third parties, especially for app developers.”

It is the latest lead from the Federal Cartel Office (FCO) which has already ruled Amazon, Google and Meta (Facebook) to pass the market power test. At the end of last month, it also opened an investigation into Microsoft’s competitiveness – which is still ongoing.

The country approved the ex ante update of its domestic competition regime in 2021, to ensure that the federal regulatory authority has the power to address Big Tech’s market power – meaning it will face an incoming pan-EU reboot (the Digital Markets Act) that the European Commission will designate so-called internet “gatekeepers” later this year and will also apply a set of operational rules to their companies in advance.

Andreas Mundt, president of the Bundeskartellamtadded:

Apple has a dominant position in all markets, which gives rise to a radius of action that is not sufficiently controlled by competition. Based on its mobile end devices such as the iPhone, Apple operates an extensive digital ecosystem that is of great competitive importance not only in Germany, but also throughout Europe and the rest of the world. With its own products iOS and the App Store, Apple holds a key position for both competition and gaining access to the ecosystem and Apple customers. This decision allows us to take specific action against anti-competitive practices and effectively prohibit them.

The designation means the FCO can act more quickly if it sees competition concerns arising from the way Apple manages its platforms and products.

Last year, the regulator opened an investigation into Apple’s tracking rules and the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework, which governs tracking permissions for third-party apps running on iOS. The FCO said it is examining initial suspicions that these rules could favor Apple’s own offerings and/or hinder others.

“To date, no decision has been made on whether to initiate further proceedings against Apple,” it said press release.

Apple has been contacted for comment on the FCO’s decision.

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