Apple and the DMA: Sheer Contempt and Malicious Compliance

An image showing various companies the European Union has marked as "Gatekeepers', including Apple. Sourced from the European Union.
The various companies the European Union has marked as “Gatekeepers’, including Apple.

My original plan early in the week was to write a blog post about 40 years of Mac and my history with the Mac. A bit of waxing nostalgic about computers from my past along with thoughts about the Mac as it stands now. I even had a whole bit planned where I talked about the McIntosh apple and what an apple cultivar is as a way to introduce the topic.

Then the Fire Nation attacked. Fire Nation? Apple? Same thing really. Anyways, what happened was Apple announced details of its plans with the Digital Markets Act enacted by the European Union. MacStories published a good summary of everything Apple is doing to comply with the DMA. The press release itself is here.

Apple is doing the bare minimum of what they need to do and ceding the least amount of control over app distribution. One key facet of this is that anyone who wishes to run a alternative app marketplace in the EU on iOS needs to obtain a specific “entitlement” from Apple. This is not “sideloading” as is referred to in the Android world.

Apple also requires all apps including ones distributed through an alternative marketplace to be notarized. Critically this means that Apple will encrypt and sign all iOS apps distributed through alternative marketplaces which gives them the ability to prevent said apps from launching and also the ability to revoke new installations. Apple says that they will do this only if an app contains known malware but it is still just a killswitch that Apple holds in its back pocket.

Apple is also actively discouraging the use of alternative app marketplaces by popular apps by introducing the “Core Technology Fee”, I’ll just quote them here:

Marketplace developers will need to pay €0.50 for each first annual install of their marketplace app. First annual installs included in your Apple Developer Program membership can’t be used for marketplace apps.

Getting started as an alternative app marketplace in the European Union

Unsurprisingly this new fee has been loudly lambasted by a couple of Apple’s biggest corporate detractors: Epic and Spotify. I think this new fee violates the spirit of the Digital Markets Act by significantly disincentivizing large apps from using alternative marketplaces and thus reducing said stores’ market power. I wouldn’t be surprised if the EU comes back and says that this fee is not in compliance and forces Apple to remove it.

Apple’s new policy when it comes to browser engines on iOS is also problematic. Mozilla’s response to this new policy highlights the issue:

“We are still reviewing the technical details but are extremely disappointed with Apple’s proposed plan to restrict the newly-announced BrowserEngineKit to EU-specific apps,” DeMonte says. “The effect of this would be to force an independent browser like Firefox to build and maintain two separate browser implementations — a burden Apple themselves will not have to bear.”

[…]

Despite this, Mozilla argues that rolling out the changes only in the EU will make it more difficult for browsers to juggle different versions. “Apple’s proposals fail to give consumers viable choices by making it as painful as possible for others to provide competitive alternatives to Safari,” DeMonte adds. “This is another example of Apple creating barriers to prevent true browser competition on iOS.”

Mozilla says Apple’s new browser rules are ‘as painful as possible’ for Firefox

To conclude: Apple’s response to the DMA is a contemptible effort. It feels like they are daring the EU to push back on it. I do hope that the European Union does indeed push back on this as they said they would. If they don’t it paints the Digital Markets Act as a paper tiger of a law that is not effective at punishing anti-competitive and monopolistic behaviours from the likes of tech behemoths like Apple.

Further reading: