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EU regulators go gunning for Apple following their latest Epic spat

Game on… Apple may have side-stepped the DMA but their latest toddler feud with Epic has roused the EU's sleeping legal giant once more
EU regulators go gunning for Apple following their latest Epic spat
  • Epic and Apple's latest spat has awoken the sleepy Euro giant from its post-tapas siesta and - believe it or not - it looks like they’re going to do something about it
  • But given the implausible machinations so far we have to wonder, what’s really going on behind the scenes?

And Apple might have got away with it too if it wasn't for that pesky Tim Sweeney…

If there's one thing that we've learnt when covering the endless machinations of Epic’s dispute with Apple is that this war - much like the one in Warhammer - never ends. "In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only Epic Vs Apple…"

And after yesterday’s latest episode (in which Apple Fellow Phil Schiller jabbed a finger into Epic CEO Tim Sweeney’s solar plexus and demanded an epic promise not to be naughty ever again, only to have Sweeney sulk off and take the whole email chain public) we pondered if the sleeping giant of the European Union would ever realise that Apple are - through their unique and frankly brazen reinterpretation of the Digital Markets Act - playing them like a cheap violin.

At last, it seems so.

Until yesterday it seemed like Apple had gotten away with it. They’d managed miraculously to adhere to the letter of the law while still (to all intents and purposes) maintaining the exact same level of fees, hand-picking who gets to do what on iOS and reserving the right to kick anyone (including a giant such as Epic) off the platform at a moment’s notice.

However, this latest spat has awoken the sleepy Euro giant from its post-tapas siesta and - believe it or not - it looks like they’re going to do something about it.

Europe: "Huh? Why can't we all be friends?"

Yes, Tim Sweeney kicking up a stink has once more (eventually, after much public airing of dirty laundry) borne ripe fruit as Reuters reports that EU regulators are - as we type - asking Apple why exactly it and long term sworn mortal enemies Epic can’t just be friends… I.e. How exactly they can possibly justify kicking Epic out when, just one day earlier, a European law was introduced to (in theory) prevent them from doing just that.

And a whole lot more besides.

"We have requested further explanations on this from Apple under the DMA (Digital Markets Act)," a European Commission spokesperson confirmed in an email.

"We are also evaluating whether Apple's actions raise doubts on their compliance with the DSA (Digital Services Act) and the P2B (Platform to Business Regulation), given the links between the developer programme membership and the App store as designated VLOP (very large online platform)."

The out-of-the-DMA-limelight Digital Services Act states that the suspension or terminating of accounts has to be proportionate and with due regard to a third party's fundamental rights. Meanwhile the similarly non-famous Platform to Business Regulation requires a platform to notify an unwitting client as to exactly when terms and conditions are broken or altered, giving that party the opportunity to put a fix in before an account can be closed.

Next level petulance

On paper at least it would appear that Schiller’s demanding of a grovel followed by a letter from their lawyer saying “That’s not good enough” and pulling Epic’s plug would be in contravention of both of the above. But given Apple’s ability to reinterpret the law and - so far - get away with it, we’re not betting the farm just yet.

And unsurprisingly Apple has come out gunning already.

"Epic's egregious breach of its contractual obligations to Apple led courts to determine that Apple has the right to terminate 'any or all of Epic Games' wholly owned subsidiaries, affiliates, and/or other entities under Epic Games' control at any time and at Apple’s sole discretion'," an Apple spokesperson said.

"In light of Epic’s past and ongoing behavior, Apple chose to exercise that right."

All of which leaves us pondering what’s really going on behind the scenes.

• How have Apple managed to appease the EU and adhere to the DMA while seemingly implementing new rules that are as draconian as their last ones?

• Why did Phil Schiller rebuff Tim Sweeney’s written promise to adhere to Apple’s regulations? (i.e. Did they simply always intend to deny Epic a licence because of their past falling out? Regardless of what Sweeney promised them?)

• Is Tim Sweeney only telling half the story? There’s a few days between Sweeney’s open and honest reply and Apple’s account shutdown email… And then a few more between Sweeney getting the bad news and deciding to go nuclear/public… Are there futher steps and conversations that we aren't we being told about?

• And is the EU going to let Apple get away with acting the colossal bully boy baby? Again?

Sigh. Watch this space.