EU confirms the six tech giants subject to its strict new competition laws

The bloc will compel Apple to let iPhone owners access alternative app stores, for instance.


The European Union has confirmed the first six tech "gatekeepers" that will need to abide by strict new rules under the bloc's Digital Markets Act (DMA). The names of these companies should be pretty familiar: Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, ByteDance, Meta and Microsoft. The European Commission (EC), which is the EU's executive branch, noted that after assessing whether certain companies met thresholds related to revenue, valuation and user numbers, Samsung hasn't been designated as a gatekeeper as yet.

The EC stipulates that digital platforms can be designated as gatekeepers "if they provide an important gateway between businesses and consumers in relation to core platform services." The gatekeepers now have until March 2024 to make sure their applicable services comply with the DMA regulations. Between the six companies, the EC has designated 22 core platform services that the law applies to:

  • Alphabet: Google ads, Google Search, Android, YouTube, Chrome, Google Maps, Google Play and Google Shopping

  • Amazon: Amazon Marketplace and Amazon ads

  • Apple: iOS, App Store and Safari

  • ByteDance: TikTok

  • Meta: Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, Meta Marketplace and Meta ads

  • Microsoft: LinkedIn and Windows

The DMA stipulates that gatekeepers can't favor their own services over rivals' offerings and can't keep users locked into their own ecosystems. They have to let third-party entities interoperate with their services in certain situations too.

Microsoft and Apple have argued that, despite meeting the thresholds the EC laid out, Bing, Edge, Microsoft Advertising and iMessage don't qualify as gateways and shouldn't have to comply with the DMA. The EC has opened a market investigation in each case to review the companies' claims.

Meanwhile, the EC notes that iPadOS doesn't meet the thresholds, but it has opened a market investigation to determine whether it should be designated as a core platform service. Gmail, and Samsung Internet Browser did meet the thresholds, but their respective owners (Alphabet, Microsoft and Samsung) successfully convinced the EC that none of these services qualify as gateways for core platform services.

The rules are likely to have a major impact on Apple in particular. The company has tried to keep a firewall around the iOS ecosystem despite jailbreakers' efforts to sideload apps onto iPhones over the years. Reports previously indicated that Apple is set to allow third-party app stores and sideloading in iOS 17 — we could find out more about that next week when the company holds its fall iPhone event. Microsoft (specifically Xbox) and Epic Games are among the companies that are preparing their own mobile app stores for when the wall around the iOS garden crumbles.

Apple has also so far rebuffed Google's (slightly embarrassing) efforts to convince it to support the RCS messaging standard. The former very much understands the value of iMessage and blue text bubbles. However, if the EC designates iMessage as a gateway, Apple could be forced to play nicely with RCS and other messaging services.

To that end, Apple told Reuters that it's concerned about the privacy and security risks that may emerge as a result of DMA compliance. "Our focus will be on how we mitigate these impacts and continue to deliver the very best products and services to our European customers," the company said.

If a gatekeeper fails to abide by the DMA rules, there may be serious consequences. The EC can fine an infringing gatekeeper as much as 10 percent of its global turnover. That can rise to 20 percent if the gatekeeper continues to break the rules. The EC has also given itself the power to force a gatekeeper to sell a business and to block it from buying related services in cases of systematic DMA violations.