Monday, February 28, 2022

Apple letter fails to dissuade Dutch antitrust authority from imposing 6th fine over alleged non-compliance in Match Group case

Reuters obtained a letter dated today by which Apple explained to the Autoriteit Consument & Markt (ACM; Authority for Consumers & Markets)--the Dutch competition agency--why it believes to be in compliance with a recent App Store antitrust ruling requiring alternative in-app payment options.

To no avail though: according to a subsequent Reuters story, a sixth weekly €5 million ($5.7 million) fine has been imposed on Apple. Actually, if I understand the process correctly, this is initially just a threat and theoretically Apple could avoid paying the fine by bringing its conduct into compliance with what the ACM believes it can require Apple to do under its recent ruling. Practically, we can ignore the difference because the bottom line is that Apple's position is clearer than ever in light of the letter Reuters reported on earlier today. Apple genuinely believes to be acting in good faith--and I can actually see why.

There's a cap for those fines at €50 million ($57 million)--the equivalent of ten weeks of €5 million each.

As I explained in my previous post, the ACM should take a closer look at the complainant's own behavior: Match Group's intransparent and inconsistent Tinder pricing is of far greater concern to consumers than whether Apple or Match Group get those 30%. The App Store as a whole is way more important than Tinder, sure. But the ruling is narrowly confined to the Dutch dating-app market, and the argument is that Apple's conduct harms Dutch consumers using dating apps on iOS devices. There is actually zero evidence that Match Group would pass any savings along to end users except for (perhaps) a temporary PR & marketing stunt. In the long run, they'd just rake in more money and consumers wouldn't benefit.

The Tinder pricing issue that the Mozilla Foundation and Consumers International have researched does harm consumers. There can be no doubt that if this effort by the ACM really was about whether Dutch consumers are overcharged by iOS dating apps, the logical starting point for an investigation would be Match. I can't take those news of non-compliance sanctions seriously as long as the ACM, which is not just an antitrust watchdog but also has a broader responsibility for consumer protection, isn't defending consumers against a pricing scheme under which some reportedly paid fives times more than others for the very same service.

I'll try to find out more about the Dutch situation. If, however, the ACM doesn't really care about whether Dutch dating-app users are treated fairly, then maybe they should finally "agree to disagree" with Apple, stop those weekly fines and let the appeal run its course.

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