The Digital Markets Act (DMA), a legislative proposal that has now being stamped by the European Commission is majorly seen as an act that will ensure a higher degree of competition in the European Digital Markets, while also preventing large companies from abusing their market power, thereby allowing new players to enter the market. But the newly agreed DMA may have other functions aside the listed above as the European Union averred that the act could require messaging app developers to make their apps work in synch by the time it comes to enforcement by October.
The EU in its press release affirmed that the lawmakers agreed that the “gatekeeper” companies behind WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or iMessage would have to make their apps “interoperable” with smaller messaging platforms at the developers’ request.
The relevant part of the EU’s statement that pointed to this reads below:
“During a close to 8-hour long trilogue (three-way talks between Parliament, Council and Commission), EU lawmakers agreed that the largest messaging services (such as Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger or iMessage) will have to open up and interoperate with smaller messaging platforms, if they so request. Users of small or big platforms would then be able to exchange messages, send files or make video calls across messaging apps, thus giving them more choice. As regards interoperability obligation for social networks, co-legislators agreed that such interoperability provisions will be assessed in the future.”
The implication of not-yet passed law is that companies like Apple and Meta could be compelled to share and open up systems they initially totally control. An instance is the non-cross platform messaging between iMessage app from Apple and the Facebook Messenger app from Meta, the EU may force them to have cross-platform messaging like Facebook does with Instagram. Apple for example may be forced to allow other messaging apps interface with its iMessage app, connoting that iPhone user using iMessage can chat and converse with a Windows PC user using Telegram.
Even though the press release may be vague in its true intention as to whether the big apps would have to work together (eg. WhatsApp users being able to send to iMessage, or iMessage vs. Android green bubble disputes), the European Union with this move is obviously trying to give small businesses a lifeline as they appear to be knocked out of businesses by the big guns.
According to an EU spokesperson who spoke with The Verge, having to create this kind of interoperability, given that encryption would be involved is expected not to be an easy walk and hence, the final agreement will have to include staggered deadlines to accommodate different levels of interoperability.
For instance, to make one-on-one messaging cross-compatible, gatekeepers may not have the luxury of time to do that as they have just three months to process that but the new concession could grant them two years timeframe to make group text messages interoperable, or four years for audio or video calls. The time frame begins to read immediately a smaller developer requests interoperability by a gatekeeper.
If the proposal by the EU succeeds, there will be no choice for the tech giants than to comply with the orders that they open up, with the EU in its press release stating that it can fine a company up to 10 percent of its global annual revenue. If there are repeated infringements, it can jump to 20 percent and the Commission is even able to prevent the company from making acquisitions if it’s deemed to systematically break the rules.
Fred Sainz, an Apple spokesperson while expressing the fears that opening up their messaging infrastructure will have on their users in a statement emailed to The Verge, Apple said:
“We remain concerned that some provisions of the DMA will create unnecessary privacy and security vulnerabilities for our users while others will prohibit us from charging for intellectual property in which we invest a great deal. We believe deeply in competition and in creating thriving competitive markets around the world, and we will continue to work with stakeholders throughout Europe in the hopes of mitigating these vulnerabilities.”