The EU Designates The Six Companies You Already Expected As ‘Gatekeepers’ Under The Digital Markets Act
from the who-has-the-key? dept
The two big EU attempts to overly regulate the internet are starting to go into effect. The Digital Services Act (DSA), along with all its associated problems, is about six months ahead of the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and all of its associated problems. Six months ago, the EU designated 17 sites as “Very Large Online Platforms” under the DSA (though a few of those sites are protesting the designation, including Zalando, which is the only company on the list mainly targeting EU users).
The DMA’s equivalent is being designated as a “gatekeeper,” and that’s now happened with the exact six companies you probably would have guessed being designated as such: Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, ByteDance (TikTok), Meta (Facebook, Instagram) and Microsoft. The DMA gatekeeper designation process is… somewhat arbitrary. It’s basically any platform the EU Commission thinks is “important” for “core services.” What could go wrong?
That said, it came out just before the release of the gatekeeper list that Apple is fighting to keep iMessage off the messaging list (which the EU, in truly EU-fashion, calls “N-IICS” for “Number Independent Interpersonal Communications Services”). And also that Microsoft is trying to keep Bing off the search list, Edge off the browser list, and its ads platform off the ads list. In both cases, the companies are suggesting that their offerings are not nearly as large and “gatekeepery” as the others. Also in both cases (or all four cases, if you count each service as separate), the EU has instead “launched an investigation” before making the final designation.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the EU end up using the investigation to say all four of those are, in fact, gatekeepers, which would create an interesting scenario in which Apple is told it needs to open up iMessage, rather than locking it to the Apple ecosystem. Wouldn’t that be something?
The EU also announced that it’s also launching a separate investigation into Apple’s iPadOS to see if it should also be included in the Operating System category (I honestly thought that the iPad just used iOS as well… which shows how not closely I follow the ins and outs of the Apple ecosystem).
The EU also says it spared three products that “met the thresholds,” but wherein the companies convinced the EU that they weren’t really gatekeepery: Gmail, Outlook.com, and Samsung’s browser.
Notably… unlike with the DSA, the EU Commission didn’t even bother to put a token EU company on the list, because why bother? These laws have always been about controlling foreign internet companies.
Again, all of this feels both somewhat arbitrary, and somewhat theater. Everyone knew what services the DMA was targeting, so this isn’t much of a surprise.
Now these offerings have until March of next year to comply with the requirements of the DMA’s rules for gatekeepers. It will be interesting to see how that will go. Some elements will be quite interesting, such as the requirements for interoperability, and enabling access to data to business users (though it’s not at all clear how that won’t lead to another Cambridge Analytica kind of scenario). There are also prohibitions on favoring their own offerings, blocking users from making use of 3rd party interoperable tools, and blocking users from uninstalling pre-installed software.
There are plenty of very interesting ideas, and I’m all in favor of more interoperability and less lock-in. So I’m intrigued (and maybe even a little bit hopeful?) about how that might play out.
However, this is a massive experiment in how the internet will work going forward, and I have zero faith that the EU technocrats who put all this together have a good grasp on the consequences of all of this, meaning that my excitement about better interop and less lock-in is greatly tempered by the reality that, in practice, there are many reasons why the DMA seems likely to just be one giant clusterfuck of problems.