Digital Markets Act: MEPs vote for interoperable messengers

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Large online platforms with essential services such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Airbnb and with a market capitalization of over 80 billion euros are subject to significantly stricter competition requirements. The lead Committee for Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) in the EU Parliament supported this course on Tuesday.

A new antitrust instrument is intended to deter dominant “gatekeepers” in the network from engaging in unfair practices. According to the line of the MPs for the planned Digital Markets Act (DMA), which still has to be formally confirmed in a plenary session of parliament in mid-December, “gatekeepers” should make their messenger services and other accompanying products such as news feeds on social networks interoperable in the future .

Messages could then be exchanged between WhatsApp, Signal, Facebook Messenger and Threema, for example; Timelines on Twitter could also be equipped with posts from Instagram and Facebook, for example. All providers of equivalent central platform services should be allowed to “interconnect” free of charge with “number-independent interpersonal communication services” or social network services of the gatekeepers upon request, according to the approved compromise motions.

This link must be made under the conditions and in the quality that are available to the gatekeeper or are used by him. A high level of security and data protection must be guaranteed. “Functions such as text, video, speech and images” should be included, and “Posts, likes and comments” in the case of social media.

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It is a matter of opening “bottlenecks” at gatekeepers with interoperability on a fundamental basis, emphasized rapporteur Andreas Schwab (CDU) after the vote. However, special functions of their services should be retained. This is technically feasible: Corresponding programming interfaces already exist, but have hardly been used so far. In the case of social networks, the Commission should also first set appropriate standards.

In general, it will ultimately be the task of the EU Commission to name gatekeepers with a dominant market position. In the dispute over a ban on personalized advertising, the committee decided that users – as already provided for in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – must give their prior consent to a targeted customer approach. In the recitals, he explains that the data of minors may not be used for personalized advertising. This should also apply to particularly sensitive information, for example on religious and political attitudes, ethnic origin, health or sexual orientation.

According to the compromise, gatekeepers must also allow end users and technically enable them to simply uninstall preloaded software applications on their core platform service, such as an operating system, and to change the default settings. Exceptions are programs “which are essential for the functioning of the operating system or the device and which cannot technically be offered by third parties on an independent basis”.

Alliances of smaller companies and individual companies such as the mail and messaging provider Proton had called for an even more extensive ban on pre-installed apps – at least for core applications. The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) urged on Monday on a duty of device neutrality, open standards for interoperability and a possibility for “side-loading”. Users should be able to install files and programs from sources other than the app stores from Apple and Google, for example.

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But the representatives did not want to go that far. According to them, the general DMA requirements should include search engines, social networks and marketplaces as well as voice assistants such as Alexa and Siri, browsers and networked televisions. The EU Council, which plans to adopt its position on Thursday, is also following this course.

In addition, the EU Commission could prohibit “killer takeovers” in the future. Competitors are purposefully bought up in order to take their technology out of the competition. The MPs want to significantly increase the sanctions for violations: fines should amount to at least four and a maximum of 20 percent of annual sales. Apple, for example, could face a fine of up to 64 billion euros.


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