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EU may force Apple to allow sideloaded iOS apps

Digital Markets Act would open up of large tech platforms, mandate interoperability with large messaging services

A pending piece of European Union legislation may require Apple to allow users to install apps onto iOS devices without going through the App Store.

The European Parliament last week announced that it had agreed with the European Council on text for the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which would require companies operating "core platform services" like social networks and search engines to abide by rules mandating interoperability and more open platforms.

The Verge confirmed with the European Commission that the legislation would apply to smartphones as well, allowing iPhone users to run apps and developers to collect payments without going through Apple.

"We believe that the owner of a smartphone should have the freedom to choose how to use it," European Commission spokesperson Johannes Bahrke told the site.

"This freedom includes being able to opt for alternative sources of apps on your smartphone. With the DMA, a smartphone owner would still be able to enjoy safe and secure services of the default app store on their smart phones. On top of that, if a user so chooses, the DMA would allow a smartphone owner to also opt for other safe app stores."

The criteria for platforms that would be affected by the law are that they have a market capitalization of €75 billion or post €7.5 billion in annual sales. In the case of browsers, social media or messenger services, they would need 45 million monthly users in the EU and 10,000 annual business users.

The rules would require interoperability so that large messaging services like Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger open up on request to smaller services. Users of smaller services would then be able to exchange messages, files and video calls with their counterparts on larger services.

Other elements of the DMA would require users be able to choose their preferred browser or virtual assistant, and ensure that their data can only be combined from different apps for targeted advertising if the user explicitly consents to it.

Violators can be fined up to 10% of their total worldwide annual sales (20% for repeat offenders), and in severe cases may be banned from acquiring other companies for a time.

The DMA text still needs to be finalized and approved by the European Council and European Parliament, and the rules would take effect about six months later.

An Apple representative told the Verge 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."

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