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Apple’s iMessage is not being designated as a “core platform service” under the European Union’s Digital Markets Act (DMA), the European Commission announced today. The decision means the service won’t be hit with tough new obligations, including a requirement to offer interoperability with other messaging services. The Commission also opted against designating Microsoft’s Edge browser, Bing search engine, and advertising business as core platform services.
“Following a thorough assessment of all arguments, taking into account input by relevant stakeholders, and after hearing the Digital Markets Advisory Committee, the Commission found that iMessage, Bing, Edge and Microsoft Advertising do not qualify as gatekeeper services,” the EU’s press release reads, despite them meeting the quantitative thresholds of a core platform service designation.
The decision is the culmination of a five month investigation which the Commission opened when it published its list of 22 regulated services last September. Although it designated Apple’s App Store, Safari browser, and iOS operating system as core platform services, it held off on making a final decision on iMessage until an investigation could be completed. A similar investigation into iPadOS is ongoing.
Meta, meanwhile, has seen two of its messaging platforms, WhatsApp and Messenger, designated as core platform services under the DMA, and has been working to make them interoperable with third-party services. The company recently outlined how WhatsApp’s interoperability will work, explaining how its users will have to opt-in to receiving communications from external messaging apps, and that these messages will then appear in a separate inbox. Companies that want to interoperate with WhatsApp will have to sign an agreement with Meta and follow its terms.
Although iMessage has avoided the burden of complying with rules that comes with the official DMA designation, the period of regulatory scrutiny coincided with Apple announcing support for the cross-platform RCS messaging standard on iPhones, which Google has been pushing for. In what seems unlikely to be a coincidence, Apple made the RCS announcement on November 16th, the deadline for appealing the European Commission’s DMA designation.
Apple has made it clear that it’ll support the cross-platform standard alongside iMessage; it’s not replacing the company’s proprietary messaging service. “[RCS] will work alongside iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users,” Apple spokesperson Jacqueline Roy said at the time. The distinction between blue and green bubbles will remain, except now, green bubbles will signify messages sent over feature-rich RCS rather than SMS.
Apple’s Safari browser, iOS operating system, and App Store still have to comply with the regulation’s strictest requirements when DMA comes fully into force on March 7th. Apple recently announced a range of changes it’s making to comply with the regulation, which include allowing alternative app stores and browser engines other than WebKit.
But critics have been unhappy with how Apple is going about complying with the DMA, particularly with a Core Technology Fee that’ll see developers charged €0.50 per download, every year, even when distributing apps on alternative app stores (though the first million downloads are exempt). Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney called Apple’s plans “hot garbage” and “a new instance of malicious compliance” while Spotify said the new fee is “extortion, plain and simple,” and that the compliance plan adds up to “a complete and total farce.”