Apple Is First Company Charged Under New E.U. Competition Law

Apple is imposing unfair restrictions on developers of applications for its App Store in violation of a new European Union law meant to encourage competition in the tech industry, regulators in Brussels said on Monday.

The charges further escalated a tussle between Apple, which says its products are designed in the best interest of customers, and E.U. regulators, who say the company is unfairly using its size and considerable resources to stifle competition. On June 21, Apple said it would not release new artificial intelligence features in the European Union because of “regulatory uncertainty.”

Apple is the first company to be charged for violating the Digital Markets Act, a law passed in 2022 that gives European regulators wide authority to force the largest “online gatekeepers” to change their business practices.

After initiating an investigation in March, E.U. regulators said Apple was putting unlawful restrictions on companies that make games, music services and other applications. Under the law, Apple cannot limit how companies communicate with customers about sales and other offers and content available outside the App Store. The company faces a penalty of 10 percent of global revenue, a fine that could go up to 20 percent for repeat infringements, regulators said. Apple reported $383 billion in revenue last year.

“Today is a very important day for the effective enforcement of the D.M.A.,” said Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission executive vice president in charge of competition policy. She said Apple’s App Store policies make developers more dependent on the company and prevent consumers from being aware of better offers.

E.U. regulators said the charges were preliminary and gave Apple a chance to respond. A final decision will be announced by next March.

Apple had no immediate comment.

The fine underscores the risk to the company’s business from increased regulatory scrutiny around the world. In the United States, Apple is being sued by the Justice Department over claims that it has an illegal monopoly in the smartphone market. It also is arguing in U.S. federal court that it has the right to take 27 percent of app sales through third-party payment systems, which developers argue violates a 2021 judicial ruling.

Japan and Britain, which is no longer part of the European Union, have advanced rules to curb Apple’s control of the App Store, as well.

The European Union has long been at the center of regulatory efforts to clamp down on the world’s largest tech companies, but authorities in Brussels are going even further. The Digital Markets Act gives officials new powers to intervene without the drawn-out process of filing traditional antitrust lawsuits, which can take years to resolve. Amazon, Google and Meta are also under investigation for violating the law.

Another new law, called the Digital Services Act, gives regulators more power to govern social media platforms and illicit online content. Meta, TikTok and X are under investigation for possible violations.

In January, Apple announced a list of changes to its App Store policies in an effort to comply with the Digital Markets Act, including allowing users to download rival app stores for the first time. Apple also reduced the service fees it charges companies for all sales through the App Store to 17 percent, from 30 percent.

Apple has made other changes that have upset developers, including charging them a “core technology fee” of 50 euro cents for every download of their app after it has been downloaded one million times or more within 12 months. Spotify and Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, were among the companies that said the changes amounted to a new anticompetitive tax and called for regulators to intervene.

The European Commission said it was initiating a separate investigation into Apple’s technology fee, saying it may “fall short of ensuring effective compliance with Apple’s obligations under the D.M.A.”

Apple and other companies are expected to try to limit the scope of the Digital Markets Act in court. The outcome could take years but is likely to set a precedent for future regulation of the tech industry and digital economy.

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