The DMA has already inspired privacy laws worldwide, but it can be even stronger

It’s not perfect, but EU lawmakers still have time to save the DMA by letting people choose the core apps that come installed on their devices.

On Monday, November 22, the European Parliament’s Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) will likely vote on its version of the Digital Markets Act (DMA), the EU’s ambitious attempt to restore competition to the online economy by preventing Big Tech gatekeepers from abusing their power. This is a critical moment for the DMA, as it is one of the best chances for lawmakers to address the one glaring issue with the legislation in its current form. 

The DMA must include an explicit ban on pre-installing default apps for core platform services and allow everyone to choose their preferred apps through a preference menu. This would end gatekeepers’ harmful practice of self-preferencing their services and give you, the end-user, more control over what is on your device and how you use it.

At Proton, we believe the DMA is a bold, necessary reform that could reinvigorate the tech sector globally and allow new, innovative ideas to flourish. However, for the DMA to be truly successful, it’s vital that lawmakers amend the DMA to ban pre-installing default apps for core platform services.

The current plan is to adopt the DMA by the summer of 2022, meaning the IMCO’s vote could determine the health of the internet for the foreseeable future. 

This vote’s impact will reach beyond the EU, as the DMA has already encouraged other countries to consider how to rein in Big Tech’s abuse of its power. The EU must seize this opportunity to lead the global movement to take back control of the internet and pass a robust and comprehensive DMA

Learn more about the Digital Markets Act

What effect has the DMA already had globally?

The DMA is still under discussion, yet it has already influenced and inspired similar legislation around the world. In the United States, which has long lagged behind the EU in its efforts to regulate Big Tech gatekeepers, six bills were introduced to the floor of the House of Representatives with bipartisan support on 24 June 2021. These bills share many of the same goals as the DMA, including:

  • Requiring interoperability between platforms and competitor services
  • Allowing people to uninstall pre-installed software and change default settings more easily
  • Promoting data portability and security

Learn more about the six tech regulation bills being considered by the US Congress

In August, the Open App Markets Act was introduced by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in the Senate. The Open App Markets Act essentially combines parts of the six bills into one piece of legislation and refines many of their points, making it the US version of the DMA. It includes language that would force Big Tech gatekeepers to allow people to: 

  • Choose third-party apps as defaults
  • Install and use alternative app stores
  • Sideload apps onto their device

The bill also prevents companies like Apple and Google from requiring developers to use their in-app payment systems as a condition of being distributed in their app stores. 

The US federal government and several states have also stepped up investigations into potentially anti-competitive practices by Big Tech companies, including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google.

Elsewhere, South Korean lawmakers banned Google and Apple from requiring app developers to use their payment systems, undermining their ability to charge onerous commissions on in-app purchases. Google and Apple are both attempting to defy the legislation, but it is still an important reform being implemented in a major economy. 

The digital marketplace is a global marketplace, which means that tech regulation also needs to work on a global scale. It is a positive sign that so many similar efforts to curb gatekeepers’ power and promote innovation and competition have emerged worldwide this past year. 

How to make the DMA stronger

EU lawmakers have already addressed some of the issues that existed in the original draft of the DMA, such as allowing people to use different payment processors on gatekeeper platforms. This progress is welcome, but the success of the DMA hinges on whether it will truly empower people to choose what is on their devices. To ensure that everyone has that choice, the DMA must ban the pre-installation of default apps for core platform services, including email, internet browsers, and cloud storage. 

Big Tech companies self-preference their apps by pre-installing them and making them the default option on smartphones, locking people into their ecosystem of services. These default apps (like Gmail on Android) are then cross-tied to a service people need to use (like the Android operating system). The ability to choose which apps are the default option enables gatekeepers to block out the competition as 95% of people never change their smartphone’s default settings.

Learn more about default apps and the DMA 

This “default bias” means that simply allowing people to uninstall apps that come as the default will not be effective. To truly give people a choice over what apps they use on their device, the DMA must force Big Tech gatekeepers to let people choose the core apps that come installed on their device.

Recently, two of the European Parliament’s associated committees for the DMA (the ECON and ITRE committees) proposed amendments that ban pre-installed apps for core platform services and allow people to choose their default apps. These proposals are encouraging signs that policymakers are serious about reviving competition on the internet. We now urge the IMCO committee to take the same bold action regarding pre-installed apps. 

If the DMA gives this power to the people, it will be able to curtail Big Tech’s power and give new, innovative apps a level playing field on which they can compete.

What’s next?

After the IMCO’s vote, the European Parliament plans to hold a final vote in mid-December to unify the different versions of the DMA passed by the IMCO, ECON, and ITRE committees so that it has a single negotiating position before the “trilogue”, which is currently planned for the start of 2022. The trilogue refers to the process in which the EU Parliament (which represents all EU citizens), Council (which represents the governments of the EU Member States), and Commission (which is the executive branch of the EU) agree on an identical and final text of the DMA. 

If MEPs can be convinced to give people the power to choose the core apps that come installed on their devices, there is a good chance that this right will be included in the final DMA.

To ensure the DMA creates a more open and competitive internet, contact your MEP and tell them you want a DMA that prevents gatekeepers from automatically pre-installing their apps and lets you choose the core apps that come installed on your device.

In the meantime, you can protect your personal privacy and take the first step toward breaking out of Big Tech’s walled gardens by making ProtonMail your default email app

A privacy movement is clearly building. If we can create an internet where success depends on the merit of a business’s idea rather than its monopolist power, we could unleash a new wave of innovation.

DMA FAQ

What is a gatekeeper?

According to the DMA, a gatekeeper is a massive tech company that controls at least one “core platform service” of the internet that links a business and its customers, although many gatekeepers control more than one core platform service. Core platform services include:
 
– Search engines
– Social networking services 
– Messaging services (such as email)
– Operating systems
 
These core platform services can function as a bottleneck, forcing other companies to use the same tool to reach the vast majority of their market. Controlling these bottlenecks allows a gatekeeper platform to cut off its competition from the segment of the market it controls.
 
A gatekeeper must also operate on a truly global scale. To be considered a gatekeeper, a platform must have met the following criteria for the past three years:
 
– Achieve either an average market capitalization of at least €65 billion — or have an annual turnover of at least €6.5 billion in the European Economic Area
– Have at least 45 million monthly active end users within the EU 
– Have at least 10,000 yearly active business users within the EU

About the Author

Richie Koch

Prior to joining Proton, Richie spent several years working on tech solutions in the developing world. He joined the Proton team to advance the rights of online privacy and freedom.