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Six tech giants named ‘gatekeepers’ under new EU competition law

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Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, ByteDance, Meta and Microsoft will face new legal obligations to protect competition under the EU’s Digital Markets Act.

The EU has named six tech giants that will have to comply with stringent new rules aimed at protecting consumers and competitors in the digital sphere. 

With the passing of the Digital Markets Act (DMA), the EU is creating what it describes as a “rulebook” for online platforms, with the goal of creating “a safer and more open digital space, grounded in respect for fundamental rights”.

The rules will specifically target gatekeepers, defined as having an “entrenched and durable position in the market” that allows them to restrict access to core platform services, such as online search, advertising and messaging and communications.

Today, the EU has published its official list of “gatekeepers”. It features six companies which, combined, oversee 22 platforms:

  • Alphabet (which operates Google, Google Maps, Google Play, Google Shopping, Chrome, YouTube and Google Android);
  • Amazon (with Amazon Marketplace);
  • Apple (with iOS, iOS App Store and Safari);
  • Meta (with Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp and Meta Marketplace);
  • Microsoft (with Windows PC OS and LinkedIn); and
  • ByteDances TikTok. 

“We know that some tech giants have used their market power to give their own products and services an unfair advantage and hold back competitors from doing business and creating added value and jobs,” said the EU’s internal market commissioner Thierry Breton. 

“It was high time that Europe sets its rules of the game upfront, providing a clear enforceable legal framework to foster innovation, competitiveness and the resilience of the single market, rather than having to rely on lengthy and not always effective antitrust investigations. The DMA does just that.

“No online platform can behave as if it is too big to care.”

The requirements to be considered a gatekeeper include having over 45 million active users or a turnover of more than €7.5bn (£6.4bn) in the last three financial years.

However, some of the platforms have challenged this designation. As a result, the EU has opened five new investigations to asses whether certain Microsoft and Apple platforms should follow these rules, including Bing, Edge and iMessage. 

Two widely-used email providers – Alphabet’s Gmail and Microsoft’s Outlook – were removed from the initial selection after the parent companies successfully argued against the designation. 

Apple said it remains “very concerned” about the privacy and data security risks that the DMA poses for its users.

“Our focus will be on how we mitigate these impacts and continue to deliver the very best products and services to our European customers,” an Apple spokesperson told CNBC. 

The six gatekeepers will have to comply with stringent conduct rules, including allowing consumers to install third-party apps or app stores on their operating system and refraining from using data generated by competing businesses on their platforms. They will also be prohibited from ranking their own products or services more favourably than those of third parties in search results.

In 2021, it was revealed that 612 companies, groups and associations spend more than €97m (£83m) annually lobbying against EU digital economy policies, specifically the DMA and the Digital Services Act (DSA). Lobbyists were involved in three-quarters of the 270 meetings that commission officials had on the two draft laws.

The EU can still add or remove platforms from the list as market conditions evolve. 

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