Conference Debrief – Highlights from the ECN DMA Workshop

The ECN DMA conference, hosted in Amsterdam on the 24th of June was, if we may, DMA-zing. Fiona Scott Morton & Martijn Snoep were not wrong to start the conference by saying that innovation happens here. Not just through the DMA’s potential to unleash business users innovative talent, but also through this new way of dialogue between business users and enforcers: The conference created a space for business users to speak up, and regulators to listen. For the SCiDA team, Jasper van den Boom & Sarah Hinck report the highlights of a dense and insightful conference.

By Jasper van den Boom & Sarah Hinck

Opening words – Martijn Snoep & Fiona Scott Morton

Head of the Dutch ACM Martijn Snoep and Yale economist Fiona Scott Morton started the conference by explaining how the idea of the ECN DMA workshop was born on a short, shared train ride after a conference in Rome (we suspect it was this one). And what an empire they built! The Rome Express stopped at the Sheraton Hotel at Schiphol (Amsterdam) where 400 participants gathered, including a Commission delegation of Margrethe Vestager, Thomas Kramler and Lucia Bonova, as well the crème de la crème of national enforcers and business representatives from Walt Disney to Klarna. This ECN DMA conference was larger – significantly larger – than the official DMA compliance workshops.

Maybe, this has to do with the change of perspective: The business users finally took the floor to tell us what they need from enforcers, and to explain what effective compliance means for them. Fiona Scott Morton reminded the audience that the purpose of the DMA is to facilitate innovation, and that it is ultimately business users that will create the innovative products and services. She also gave a hint of what might be ‘effective compliance’: that businesses can get into the space created by the DMA and are able to do their business.

Keynote #1 – Margrethe Vestager

Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager brought a huge present to the conference. She was introduced by the hosts as the ‘mother of the DMA’, opened the conference and sent the message that the Commission is listening. The Commissioner (who actually stayed for lunch and joined us in the buffet line) emphasized that the Commission sees the DMA as the primary tool to unleash the talent of business users. And then dropped the present for business users: Vestager announced live on a stage of a sixth non-compliance investigation. Under applause, she continued to explain that Apple not only received preliminary findings in the ongoing non-compliance investigation but will be also investigated for its new business model, that seems to hinder, rather than support developers. She explained that this will be the litmus test of any non-compliance investigation: does the measure aim to enable or prevent competition and contestability.

Going with the flow of the EURO 2024 enthusiasm, she explained the main purposes of the DMA: Contestability means the rival team can actually play the match and is not stuck in the changing rooms. Fairness means that even when small players play the big teams everybody gets a fair chance and nobody has to run uphill on the pitch. She proudly announced that now, we can play the match against Big Tech on a levelled playing field as “#Team DMA”, nominating the Commission, national enforcers, business users and end-users. Everyone can contribute a fair share whether it is through enforcement, competition, or our own decisions.

Plenary panel #1 – Access & Interoperability

The first panel discussion gave the floor to some of Europe’s innovators. Johannes Reck, CEO of Get Your Guide, stole the show with his open and honest remarks about competition in the digital space and the importance of the DMA. In response to an earlier comment from the audience, he lambasted Booking’s CEO remark that the DMA is a “dumb regulation”, remarking that Booking was one of the DMA’s greater proponents before they got designated as gatekeeper. Johannes also explained the troubles that Get Your Guide has in competing with Google, stating that Google seems to truly “believe that they are the government” and that they have the right to create rules for competition on their platforms freely. Google’s response to the DMA was to further integrate their verticals on their horizontal search page, making it harder to compete. This affirms the idea that Google may be trying to outwit the Commission by making changes that benefit nobody but Google.

Francesco Versace, representing Spotify, focused more on the challenges that they were facing in terms of competition with Apple. He explained that the 30% commission fees charged by Big Tech are excessive, especially in light of the razor thin margins in the music streaming industry. He also explained that a lot of benefits that were supposed to arrive under the DMA, such as the use of the Spotify web-app on iPhone, had not yet arrived. It seems that for Spotify, the fight is far from over (even after the Commission announcement of a € 1.84 billion fine against Apple for its music streaming practices).

Amandine le Pape represented Element, which builds sovereign and secure communications platforms for businesses and depend on interoperability solutions. Element uses the APIs provided by platform operators to allow for the creation of new plug-ins, meaning that they both collaborate and compete with tech platform providers. She expressed the hope that the DMA would make the relationship with gatekeepers less adversarial, as business users currently had to either break non-compete clauses related to the access to APIs or engage in reverse-engineering. This would lead to new applications and foster innovation: by integrating with a large messaging platform, newcomers could access a network of users immediately without having to build it from scratch. Amandine also explained that the function of the DMA is limited as only WhatsApp has been designated as N-IICS. She expressed disappointment that the Commission had followed Apple’s reasoning in not designating iMessage, which further limited its already narrow scope.

Ian Brown, independent researcher and consultant and forerunner in the field of interoperability, took a step back and explained the general purpose behind promoting interoperability and access and how it leads to competition. Ian’s remarks helped to translate the specific problems faced by business users to a broader lesson on the theory of interoperability. Ian emphasized that interoperability has benefits for both competition and users, since a greater network would lead to increased efficiencies and less friction.

The Breakout Sessions – Round #1

The breakout sessions presented conference attendees with choice. It was a bit like the new DMA-driven choice screens on your phone… we still wonder what we missed when not choosing the browsers Aloha or Onion the sessions on app stores and instant messaging, but here are insights from operating systems and search!

Search Engines – How to find fair competition

The panel on Search engines with panelists Wolfgang Oels (Ecosia), Annalaura Gallo (EU Travel Tech), and Clark Parsons (Internet Economy Foundation) was moderated by Andreas Mundt, head of the German Bundeskartellamt – and included two previous SCiDA podcast guests .

Wolfgang Oels explained how Ecosia, the tree planting search engine, had stayed afloat in competition with Google without the DMA (although with some self-admitted help from the moderator). He also discussed the most important driver of consumer choice for search: defaults. Oels claimed that defaults are the greatest decider in who gets picked, more so than quality or security. The introduction of new choice screens, thanks to the DMA, directly affected Ecosia’s numbers, with a doubled adoption rate. Is this effective compliance? Or is it just a teaser of what could happen if the choice screens were properly rolled out and shown more than once?

Annalaura Gallo reminded us that horizontal search is no longer that horizontal, at least not in Google’s case. She explained how Google’s verticalization of its horizontal search page, and the associated self-preferencing, hurts competition and the interests of EU Travel Tech’s constituency. The letter of the law is clear – self-preferencing is not allowed. Annalaura Gallo’s message was that Google’s current compliance solutions are simply ineffective and insufficient.

Clark Parsons (Internet Economy Foundation, IEF) explained how the verticalization of horizontal search made Google less of a gateway and more of an end-station: by providing all the answers, they keep users within their ecosystem without ever connecting them to the other side of the market. Self-preferencing eventually evolves into foreclosure, as the end-goal is to ensure that you stick with Google (or whatever gatekeeper you are dealing with). According to Parsons the IEF helped to unite European start ups to stand their ground against Google and to speak up against self-preferencing. Speaking up is not easy. As Clark Parsons explained, funding for European startups comes mostly from Big Tech itself. Another manner of dependency.

Are structural measures required to resolve the issues in search? Each participant found this option realistic, perhaps unavoidable. However, Annalaura Gallo argued that avoiding structural separation is relatively simple for gatekeepers like Google: all you have to do is actually comply with the letter of the law and stop self-preferencing. If they are split up to achieve this effect, this would be the result of the gatekeeper’s own behaviour. If you are wondering what proper compliance looks like, the ten principles of fair search presented during the panel is a good starting point.

Operating systems – An Estonian perspective

The moderator and the panelists of the operating systems break-out session had one thing in common: they all came from eStonia Estonia, one of Europe’s most digitized countries. The Director General of the Estonian Competition Authority, Evelin Pam Lee, introduced the panelists: Ivar Krustok, Chief AI & Innovation Officer at Delfi Media (a high volume Estonian online news outlet), Alo Einla from the Estonian Information Authority, and Rait Matijsen, Head of Innovation of Net Group, an Estonian creator of software solutions.

The Estonian enforcer kicked off this breakout session by asking the panelists how the operating system gatekeepers and their ‘house rules’ are affecting their unique businesses in Estonia. Alo Einla brought an interesting perspective to the table in response to this question as a public app developer. The Estonian Information Authority is struggling to launch an online voting app for mobile due to the house rules of gatekeepers. As internet voting requires a high degree of security and needs to follow strict requirements, public institutions seem to lack safe alternatives to gatekeeper offers.

The two Estonian business representatives, Ivar Krustok and Rait Matijsen, agreed on their concern that gatekeepers’ operating systems and their ‘house rules’ provide mandatory systems for their apps and software, result in businesses losing their direct communication channels with their customers and enable the gatekeeper to control all the relevant data.

Keynote #2 – Margaret Versteden-van Duijn

Margaret Versteden is the CEO of Dutch e-commerce giant Started in 2006, Bol has held the fort against competition from Amazon and stood the test of time. It felt a bit like a sales pitch, but if you want the biz-perspective you get it. Margaret expressed serious concern about the future of e-commerce in the Netherlands and Belgium. However, these concerns do not stem from US Big Tech giants such as Google. Instead, Bol’s competition is coming from the East. The Chinese e-commerce platform Temu uses a peculiar business strategy that Margert described as predatory and irresponsible. Temu sends single packages with cheap (under €100, and often under €10) to Europe by air. This means that they can avoid customs duties, but it also means huge amounts of needless CO2 emissions.

The things that arrive in Europe are – as we take it from Margaret’s talk – low quality goods from dubious sources, flooding the market with plastic trash-to-be. It turns out, that cheap crap is in high demand, as almost all growth of an otherwise stagnant e-commerce market is currently going to China. At the same time, Bol seems threatened by social media platforms like TikTok, too, as they are increasingly acting as marketplaces as well. A two-pronged attack: cheap and predatory goods at the bottom, while TikTok leverages its hypnotising videos into sales to crush Bol from the top. So how to stop the jaws from biting down? Margaret had three compelling messages: 1) designate Temu, 2) watch social media platforms’ evolution into e-commerce spaces, 3) enforce thoroughly and protect Europe’s responsible innovators.

Plenary Panel #2 – Consumer preferences

The panel on consumer preferences was moderated by Nathalie Harsdorf from the Austrian Competition Authority, and offered views of Linda Griffin (Mozilla), Kamil Bazbaz (DuckDuckGo), Josy Sousson (Klarna) and Vanessa Turner (BEUC).

Each of the participants explained the importance of consumer choices. Linda Griffin discussed whether users truly want choice. She believes that we should not simply assume things, so Mozilla has actually done the research for us. It turns out that – if presented with a fair and neutral choice screen – 98% of the users enjoys having a choice, most of them are likely to switch to something other than a default and stick with it, and user enjoyment is higher. Fair choice screens and easy default switching is instrumental for this.

Kamil Bazbaz affirmed this statement, explaining that choice screens work if they are actually properly rolled out. According to the DuckDuckGo representative, Big Tech however does not want these choice screens to work, and resistance is strong. They are not being rolled out fully, not shown in the right way or with the right timing. According to Kamil Bazbaz, repetition is key, and providing one (suboptimal) choice moment every 4 to 5 years is insufficient. Kamil shared with us that his taxi driver had confided in him that he did not pick DuckDuckGo in his new browser choice moment, but that he might next time. We’ll find out if he actually does so in another few years. Actually… we won’t – since DuckDuckGo does not track its users.

Representing the payment provider Klarna, Josy Sousson clarified the importance of choice in payment systems. Users in this area are notoriously (yet understandably) risk averse. Josy Sousson explained that many users do not switch their banking providers often, or in many instances ever. To provide a new payment system requires a high level of trust. Any frictions created by the gatekeeper may be destructive for payment providers. Would you give your credit card details to a service after reading that Apple is no longer responsible for your safety and fraud risks if you do so? Maybe. Would you do so after the third warning screen? Sousson asked for fair and informative choice. In Vestager’s words: gatekeepers should enable, not prevent.

BEUC’s Vanessa Turner was one of the most active participants in the March Compliance workshops, asking all gatekeepers about the design of their choice screens and whether they had tested their solutions. She continued to stress the importance of testing solutions at the ECN DMA conference (and on our SCiDA podcast). Gatekeepers should take the time to test their compliance mechanisms and to support their changes with data, and the Commission should require this from them.

The panel had one overarching message: consumers want and need to have choices, and make (better) choices. This is however not easy when users have to go through 14 screens before they get to make that choice (as per Vanessa Turner).

Breakout sessions – Round #2

Another round of breakout sessions gave the workshop participants the opportunity to learn experts’ perspectives on and deep dive into gatekeeper issues related to browsers, e-commerce and online booking, generative AI and online search. Here are some insights from two break-out sessions:

E-commerce & online travel booking – strength in diversity

The e-commerce and online travel booking panel discussion was moderated by the Director General of the Swedish competition authority, Rikard Jemsten, hosting the panellists Gregor Schroll (Zalando), Guillaume Teissonnière (eDreams ODIGEO and previous guest of the SCiDA podcast), and Timothée Giard (Gate Avocate). For those who think the combination of e-commerce and online travel booking seems broad, the panellists were united in their concerns: Google’s self-preferencing and the verticalization of horizontal search.

Guillaume Teissonnière delivered a passionate call to action to the Commission when he explained that Google is trying to implement a divide and conquer strategy. In the compliance workshops in March, we heard Google say that they tried to “balance the interests” of direct suppliers on one hand and vertical search engines on the other. The eDreams ODIEGO representative believes that this is not really the case: vertical search engines and direct suppliers have always worked with one another to create synergies, direct and indirect engagement have always been the two ways of finding customers for hotels and accommodations. So why is there a friction now? It is because Google is trying to divert more traffic to itself while shifting blame to the other side. Guillaume Teissonnière explained that since the changes, 20% of traffic that was usually diverted to direct suppliers has simply disappeared, and that such an increase has not been seen with vertical search engine operators. eDreams ODIGEO is willing to open its book and share data to show the Commission that this is the case, to show that Google’s changes are preventing and not enabling. Guillaume Teissonnière stressed that the Commission should make use of such offers and talk to business users, instead of just negotiating with the gatekeeper. A sentiment that fits well within the framing of the ECN DMA workshop: regulators should listen to the one’s they are trying to protect, not only to those they are trying to regulate.

Zalando’s competition law expert Gregor Schroll discussed their own challenges, explaining how Art. 5(2) DMA would help Zalando to compete better with the likes of Google, at least, as long as the scope of contestability was clearly defined. Gregor Schroll raised the question whether contestability means contestation by a substitutable product or by a more differentiated group of products – an important question, asking whether there is a focus on direct or indirect competition and contestation. After all, the presence of gatekeepers is ubiquitous. Google is not only Zalando’s competitor in the area of vertical search, but also one of its biggest partners in advertising. This makes dependency multi-faceted.

Browsers – and web apps to the rescue

Panelists Patrick Walshe (Brave), Nicolas Bodin (Qwant), Kush Amlani (Mozilla and SCiDA Podcast guest), Alexandre De Streel (Université de Namur) and Alex Moore (Open Web Advocacy) delivered a highly dynamic breakout session on browsers (and beyond) moderated by Griet Jans of the Belgian Competition Authority.

The panellists called for a ‘hot seat’ in which alternative browsers should be placed in once end users chose the default. This, according to Alex Moore, should include prominent placing on the screen as well as being the preferred browser for in-app browsing. Nicolas Bodin and Patrick Walshe both complained about a lack of data and stats from gatekeepers to properly assess browser performance.

The potential of web apps (apps that are accessed through browsers) to provide app interoperability across operating systems also found its way into the browser session in the shape of Alex Moore who repeatedly argued that web apps are key to reduce dependency on gatekeepers’ app stores as they rely on (alternative) browsers.

To open and close the browser debate, Alexandre De Streel raised a procedural aspect and criticised that we have not seen a trilateral dialogue between the Commission, the gatekeepers and business users to build effective compliance. DG Comp’s head of unit of digital platforms, Lucia Bonova, was quick to disenchant the audience by remaining doubtful whether bringing business users to the table would encourage gatekeepers to be compliant.

DMA v. Gatekeeper power – Cristina Caffarra and Andreas Schwab

Cristina Caffarra, the economist-turned-crusader, is the fiercest critic of the DMA from a non Big-Tech-side, at least on X. Andreas Schwab co-drafted the DMA as the rapporteur in the European Parliament (some call him “Mister DMA”). Placing the two of them on one panel, if only for 15 minutes, proved entertaining, but explosive. Cristina Caffarra took up her role by providing a critical view of the DMA. Europe’s too dependent on US Big Tech, the DMA does not cure that, the rules are not prescriptive enough.

Andreas Schwab respectfully disagreed. He passed the ball to the Commission, stating that enforcement now must be speedy to create a level playing field. Still, he conceded that one may think of Plan B if the DMA fails to achieve its goals. The B in Plan B stands for Breaking Up, of course.

Keynote #3 – Harold Goddijn

“You may know more about the topic than I do, but I know more about mapmaking”, said Harold Goddijn, founder and CEO of TomTom, an early tech giant. His keynote was the final stop but one on the route from Rome to Schiphol, and Harold navigated the audience through the difficulties of tech markets. TomTom reached a turning point when the smartphone: Even with the foresight that the industry was about to change, nothing could prepare them for the smartphone revolution. TomTom ventured into B2B markets afterwards, staying away from the consumer markets.

But even now, focussing on markets including aviation, fleet management and self-driving cars, TomTom is susceptible to gatekeeper influence. The CEO explained that Google has access to information that nobody else has access to: contact details, opening times, reviews, updates etc. This is a competitive disadvantage.

On a more optimistic note Harold Goddijn is confident that the DMA may help them to compete better – even though he was initially skeptical. He believed that going to the authorities was likely a waste of time, resulting in litigation and lawyers. This scepticism has made TomTom slow to notify the authorities of the issues they are facing, and TomTom is not alone. The final keynote really brought the point home as to why the ECN DMA conference is a necessity: building bridges between regulators and business users helps to understand the market and the needs of digital enterprises, it builds trust, and it is the way to an effective DMA.

End of conference – Fiona’s gems

At the end of the conference, ACM chairman Martijn Snoep brought Fiona Scott Morton back on stage to share her gems of the day. She started with terminology and narratives: “Plantation” may better capture than “ecosystem” that the environment provided by gatekeepers is often closed, exploitative, predatory, or extortionist. And the narrative must be that users are entitled to choice – it is not risky or something users get at the mercy of gatekeepers, but it is their right that gatekeepers prevent them from having.

Innovation, so Fiona stated, may be hindered by tracking and intrusion, sometimes in unexpected ways as she illustrated with the example of online voting through smartphones in Estonia.

Finally, Fiona Scott Morton reminded us that it is easy to criticise and complain about the DMA (and it sounded like a rebuttal to Cristina Caffarra). If someone asks for more prescriptiveness – does that mean that the Commission writes code and puts price tags on products? Fiona Scott Morton sees the DMA as a landmark piece of legislation. Yes, a plan B may be necessary some day, but that may comprise industrial policy, structural separations, or wholly new plans.

Martijn Snoep – the gracious host that guided us seamlessly through the days events – spoke the last words of the ECN DMA workshop: The Commission and national enforcers need to listen, business users need to speak up loudly. The DMA, while imperfect, will go a long way in creating more opportunities for companies in Europe and abroad. At least, that will be the case if #TeamDMA lives up to their shared responsibility.

Addendum by Vicky Robertson: App stores – Changing business models as roadblocks for DMA implementation?

Vicky Robertson was the moderator of the panel on App Stores, a highly attended breakout session. She has kindly sent us her summary of the panel discussions, where she shares her initial insights. An in-depth report of the app store session will be available on The Competition Law Hub website soon.

The panel on app store-related provisions in the DMA included panellists Jérémie Jourdan (Schibsted Marketplaces), Jeanette Teckman (Match Group), and Paulo Trezentos (Aptoide). Robertson summarizes the viewpoints of the panellists, the problems they face in competition for payment systems, and how they believe the DMA can be used effectively.

Read Vicky Robertson´s full post here.

Jasper van den Boom is a postdoctoral researcher, Sarah Hinck is a doctoral student in the SCiDA project at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf. If you do not want to miss our latest blog posts, please subscribe to the e-mail newsletter here.

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