Apple fined again for Dutch dating apps

As of this writing, Apple is still refusing to comply with a Dutch antitrust decision that would enable local dating apps to utilise third-party payment technology to sell digital content.

Today, the Dutch Authority for Consumers & Markets (ACM) announced a sixth punishment against the internet giant for non-compliance with an order initially issued last year, according to a statement from the agency.

According to the latest developments, Apple is now facing a fine of €30 million, which may rise to €50 million if it does not comply with the regulator’s demands.

“We didn’t get any fresh recommendations from Apple last week that would make them comply with ACM criteria. Because of this, Apple is also responsible for the sixth fine,” stated an ACM spokeswoman.

The week of February 14th was dedicated to re-explaining to Apple the requirements we have and why the existing ideas are inadequate. According to reports, “Apple appears to have no intention of modifying its initial concept in order to fulfil the standards.”

In light of the recent punishment, we reached out to Apple, but the firm chose not to comment.

The EU’s head of digital strategy, EVP Margrethe Vestager, called out Apple’s actions last week, accusing the corporation of a deliberate policy of preferring to pay penalties rather than comply with competition directives. Apple has maintained a public quiet on this subject for weeks now.

Since the ACM’s decision has been met, news agency Reuters claims to have acquired an internal document from Apple claiming compliance with the regulator’s directives, which claims that dating app developers interested in taking use of the privilege just need to make a “small technological adjustment.”

While earlier saying it does not support the order because it might negatively impact user experience, the business maintains that it is complying by offering two entitlements to the developers in question.

Apple’s top compliance officer, Kyle Andeer, writes that “Apple believes its solution is completely consistent with Dutch legislation” in a letter acquired on February 28.

This demand that non-Apple payment applications provide a fresh binary, which Andeer claims is not very rare, is the main emphasis of the tech giant’s defence of its conduct, which appears in the letter.

In order to ensure that Apple complies with its legal obligations in the Netherlands while at the same time maintaining its standard terms and conditions in the rest of the world, this is a simple prerequisite,” he explains, adding that “Apple’s global App Store rules and policies require developers of dating apps that are selling digital goods or services within their apps to use IAP functionality for those transactions, providing a safe and secure and co-operative environment for customers.” That’s always been the case.”

Online dating giant Match Group (which owns a huge portfolio of dating apps, including Tinder) currently offers several versions of its applications “to adapt for the differing requirements or preferences in other jurisdictions,” according to Andeer.

Since this approach is what Apple and developers use in other jurisdictions where there are unique legal issues that require a different approach, it is “not costly or difficult,” he claims for developers, to submit a separate binary is “the same approach Apple and developers use in other jurisdictions.”

As Andeer points out, “dating apps are familiar with this process and in fact freely partake in it.” When it comes to creating a new binary for the Dutch storefront, all that is needed is a small alteration to an existing app’s code to enable the use of an external payment processor or to link to a website for online purchase. “. In this method, there are no additional charges. ”

As previously stated by the Dutch regulator, Apple is putting “unreasonable and unfavourable” constraints on developers who wish to utilise other payment APIs other than Apple’s in-app payment API.

A basic distinction between voluntary and platform-required technical actions is apparent, and this is something that should be plain to everyone who has ever worked with software.

ACM has previously expressed displeasure with Apple’s insistence that developers choose between using Apple’s in-app API or third-party payment technology, rather than allowing them to utilise all alternatives in the same application.

(And in its letter to the ACM, Apple describes its response to the order in those terms—saying developers offering a dating app on the Dutch App Store have the option of using “either Apple’s In-App Purchase (“IAP”) functionality, a third-party payment processor, or a link out of their app to a website” [emphasis ours].)

Match Group has been asked for comment on the reasons Apple raises in their letter to the ACM about binaries, and we will keep you updated if they respond.

EU lawmakers are currently working to finalise the details of antitrust rules that only apply to the most powerful “gatekeepers,” and Vestager recently cited Apple’s evasion of antitrust enforcement in the Netherlands to highlight the challenge for the Digital Markets Act, which is currently being drafted (DMA).

Since the Dutch antitrust ruling might have an impact on the ultimate form of DMA, it is possible that Apple’s response to the Dutch order could have an impact on the final shape of the DMA.

To be fair to violators, the DMA already includes the prospect of sanctions as high as 10% of worldwide annual revenue. For example, Apple’s €30M would be closer to €30BN than €30M in this situation.

A considerably more dangerous and expensive move for digital companies is to ignore future Commission behavioural commands established under the DMA. This is true, at least for those who will be subject to a new EU-wide law.