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

As our first SCiDA guest contribution and insightful addition to our ECN DMA Conference Debrief, Vicky Robertson, Professor for competition law at WU Vienna, Director of The Competition Law Hub and moderator of the panel discussion on app stores during the ECN DMA workshop shares her insights from the breakout session. An in-depth report of the app store session will be available on The Competition Law Hub website soon.

By Vicky Robertson

The panel on app store-related provisions in the DMA included panelists Jérémie Jourdan (Schibsted Marketplaces), Jeanette Teckman (Match Group), and Paulo Trezentos (Aptoide). It was organised by the Austrian Federal Competition Authority, and I had the pleasure of moderating it. The panel focused on opportunities that the DMA provides to app developers as well as alternative app stores, and roadblocks that the two gatekeepers whose app stores have been designated as a core platform service – Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store – still need to remove.

Thanks to the advanced digitization in the Nordic countries, the distribution of news media through apps is greatly relevant to publishers there. Jérémie Jourdan, Head of Competition Policy and Public Affairs at Schibsted Marketplaces, explained how for this reason, Schibsted Media counts on multiple provisions in the DMA to reach users and establish more direct relationships with them, including relying on its own payment system. He also mentioned app store competition as an indirect means to solve several of the current issues. Jérémie pointed to an issue that was a current theme throughout the conference: business models. He expected a change in the gatekeepers’ business models to possibly run counter to the DMA’s ambition to lead to fair and contestable markets. Article 13 DMA on anti-circumvention to the rescue?

For Match Group’s dating apps (eg, Tinder, Hinge), distribution through app stores is central. Jeanette Teckman, Interim Chief Legal Officer at Match Group, emphasised how the payment processing system within app stores – and the hefty fees that come with them – represent a major issue in this respect. Jeanette highlighted what Match Group counts on from the DMA: FRAND fees and terms, the ability to actually use an own payment processing system, anti-steering and no parity clauses. Real compliance still is the major roadblock – including ‘scare messages’ that Apple imposes on app developers. This linked to the plenary discussion on consumer preferences that took place after the lunch break. As for the pricey core technology fee (CTF) now charged by Apple, she wondered what exactly this fee was being charged for.

In June 2024, and just in time for the DMA conference, Aptoide launched the first commercial alternative app store on iOS. Paulo Trezentos, CEO and Co-founder of Aptoide, highlighted that while this app store currently only contains nine games (yes, you read correctly: n-i-n-e) and is in a closed launch because of the CTF, it can be seen as a trial run for putting the implementation of the DMA obligations contained in Article 6(4) DMA to the test. With Aptoide already having filed a first complaint about Google’s self-preferencing behaviour in 2014, this is also the most problematic conduct Paulo identified for that gatekeeper. Further issues relate to the friction still present at install time and the lack of access to Google Play distribution.

Finally, I asked the three panellists what advice they would give fellow digital tech challengers so as to make best use of the DMA. They all agreed that getting informed and getting involved – as well as smaller players joining forces – would go a long way to achieving gatekeeper compliance and thus opening up those business opportunities.

A little (unremunerated) advertisement: The Belgian Competition Authority published a (draft) brochure on the occasion of the DMA conference aimed at informing tech challengers of the opportunities that the DMA is meant to open up. It can be downloaded here.

Full disclosure: I contributed to this brochure, alongside Alex de Streel (if you’re worried that this link-out constitutes self-preferencing, rest assured: luckily, there are plenty of bright minds in digital competition law and we therefore have no gatekeeper power).

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