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Apple prefers to pay fines rather than comply with antitrust order: EU’s Margrethe Vestager

The revised App Store conditions for dating-app providers in Netherlands were deemed “unreasonable”.

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Apple prefers to pay fines rather than comply with the Dutch antitrust watchdog’s order, EU’s head of digital policy, Margrethe Vestager, said on February 22 during a speech.

The Netherlands’ Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) this week levied its fifth €5 million fine against Apple for not complying with its order to open up the in-app payment options for dating apps. The authority has been levying weekly fines of €5 million since Apple missed the January 15 deadline.

Referring to this, Vestager said:

“Effective enforcement, which includes the Commission having sufficient resources to do so, will be key to ensure compliance. Some gatekeepers may be tempted to play for time or try to circumvent the rules. Apple’s conduct in the Netherlands these days may be an example. As we understand it, Apple essentially prefers paying periodic fines, rather than comply with a decision of the Dutch Competition Authority on the terms and conditions for third parties to access its appstore.”

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) is also probing Apple and Google over the openness of app stores and in-app payment systems, and the developments in the Netherlands and elsewhere, as well as the comments by Vestager, will be useful to consider before any decision is reached.

What is happening with Apple in the Netherlands?

  • January 14 – 24: Apple on January 14 said that it will allow dating apps in the Netherlands to offer non-Apple payment options to users in compliance with a recent order issued by the country’s ACM, but the regulator on January 24 said that Apple has failed to satisfy the requirements of the order because there were several barriers to developers in the proposed plan by Apple and the plan itself was not in effect.
  • February 3: Then, Apple announced some more details about how Dutch developers can implement alternative payment methods, but ACM said that it was not receiving enough information from the company to assess whether it was actually complying. Apple in its blog also revealed that it would still charge developers 27 percent commission even if they use an alternative payment system, which is only slightly below the 30 percent it currently charges. The ACM is yet to comment on whether this is consistent with its order, but Apple is likely to face problems because the meagre savings might dissuade developers from using alternative options, which is against the spirit of the ACM order.
  • February 14: ACM reiterated that “the revised conditions that Apple has imposed on dating-app providers are unreasonable, and create an unnecessary barrier.” The regulator pointed out that dating-app providers must develop a completely new app if they wish to use an alternative payment system, which is an unreasonable condition because developers are forced to incur additional costs and consumers that currently use the app have to switch to the new app before they are able to use the alternative method of payment.
  • February 21: ACM levied the fifth fine bringing the total to €25 million in fines. It is not clear if the company has paid the amount.

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