The Netherlands’ competition authority has once again increased a fine levied against Apple for failing to comply with an antitrust order related to payment tech and dating apps.
The fifth penalty payment of €5 million issued today means the tech giant is now on the hook for €25M (out of a possible total of €50M) — and stands accused of continuing to throw up barriers rather than offer solutions by a very exasperated-sounding regulator.
In a statement the Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM), said:
“In the past week, we did not receive any new proposals from Apple with which they would comply with ACM’s requirements. That is why Apple will have to pay a fifth penalty payment. That means that the total amount of all penalty payments currently stands at 25 million euros.
“We have clearly explained to Apple how they can comply with ACM’s requirements. So far, however, they have refused to put forward any serious proposals. We find Apple’s attitude regrettable, especially so since ACM’s requirements were upheld in court on December 24. Apple’s so-called ‘solutions’ continue to create too many barriers for dating-app providers that wish to use their own payment systems.
“We have established that Apple is a company with a dominant position. That comes with extra responsibilities vis-à-vis its buyers and, more broadly, society at large. Apple must set reasonable conditions for the use of its services. In that context, it cannot abuse its dominant position. Apple’s conditions will thus have to take into account the interests of buyers.”
A spokesperson for the regulator confirmed that Apple hasn’t offered any new proposals since last week’s were found to be “unreasonable“.
“We expect Apple to comply with the order,” they added. “If they fail to do so, we have the opportunity to impose another order subject to periodic penalty payments.”
Apple was contacted for a response to the latest fine from the ACM but the company’s comms department has been keeping its powder dry in recent weeks as the fines and accusations have ticked up.
The tussle between a competition regulator in a single (small) European country trying to enforce a complaint by a subset of apps wanting to sell digital content without being forced to hand Apple a big chunk of their revenue and a platform giant intent on maintaining control of its ecosystem, or — at very least — its ability to charge a sizeable commission fees on in-app purchases howsoever it can — looks instructive in that it foreshadows far bigger battles to come, once the EU (and other jurisdictions) adopt (and enforce) tough new ex ante regulations against digital giants, with penalties to match.
Under the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) proposal, for example — which is speeding towards adoption — platforms that are judged to be “gatekeepers” and found to be breaking a list of pre-set, operational ‘dos and don’ts’ could face penalties of up to 10% of their global annual turnover.
Which — in Apple’s case — would mean a fine that’s closer to €25BN than €25M (so certainly harder for Cupertino to shrug off).
Even so, it’s clear regulators will face a massive task trying to get resource-rich tech giants to dance to their exact tune.
Apple’s response to the ACM complaint has shown it’s not willing to simply abandon a lucrative revenue stream just because a regulator decides it’s unfair — and will instead work against that by reconfiguring its operations to find a new way to extract much the same fee… (Apple said it would charge Dutch dating apps tapping into third party payment tech a 27% fee on sales vs the standard 30% App Store commission).
Staying on top of fast-iterating tech giants — who may be highly incentivized to route around regulatory limitations, especially those that challenge their revenues — is a game we’ve already seen is very easy to lose to endless delay.