EU could force WhatsApp, Messenger, iMessage and others to offer interoperability
The EU has agreed upon new laws to limit the market power of big tech. Its new Digital Markets Act (DMA) aims to blacklist anti-competitive practices and force popular messaging services like WhatsApp, Messenger, iMessage, and others to open up and interoperate with smaller messaging platforms.
The EU’s press release on the matter states:
“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.”
Based on this statement, it’s evident that the EU wants popular messaging services to offer interoperability with other, smaller messaging platforms. However, it isn’t clear if the law will also force the major messaging platforms to work together, i.e., let users send messages from one app to another.
If that does turn out to be the case, companies like Apple and Meta will have to open up their messaging ecosystems. While this could be beneficial for end-users and small messaging platforms, it might raise some privacy issues. Since all the major messaging apps use different methods for encryption, offering interoperability while maintaining user privacy could prove to be a challenge. To mitigate any issues, the EU will include a staggered deadline in the final agreement that will give the companies a chance to implement different levels of interoperability over a period of time.
Companies that do not abide by the new rules will be fined up to 10% of their total worldwide turnover in the preceding financial year. The fine will increase to 20% for repeated infringements. The EU might also ban companies from acquiring other companies for a period of time in case of systematic infringements.
Talking about the new regulation, an Apple spokesperson told The Verge that the company is “concerned that some provisions of the DMA will create unnecessary privacy and security vulnerabilities” for users, while other provisions could prohibit the company “from charging for intellectual property.” The spokesperson further added that Apple plans to “continue to work with stakeholders throughout Europe in the hopes of mitigating these vulnerabilities.”
In addition to the messaging interoperability requirements, the Digital Markets Act will crack down on big tech’s anti-competitive practices. The regulations will impose restrictions on combining personal data from different sources, allow users to download and install apps from third-party platforms, prohibit companies from bundling services, and prevent self-preferencing practices.
Note that the Digital Markets Act hasn’t passed yet. The EU still has to finalize the language, after which it will have to be approved by the Parliament and Council. According to EU’s Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, the DMA should come into force “sometime in October.” The regulations might go through additional changes and alterations by that time.