Apple has ‘very serious’ issues under sweeping EU digital rules, competition chief says

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Apple has a number of “very serious” issues under the European Union’s sweeping rules aimed at reining in Big Tech, the bloc’s competition chief Margrethe Vestager told CNBC on Tuesday, following reports that regulators are preparing charges against the iPhone maker.

In March, the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, opened a probe into Apple, Alphabet and Meta, under the sweeping Digital Markets Act (DMA) tech legislation that became applicable this year.

The investigation featured several concerns about Apple, including whether the tech giant is blocking businesses from telling their users about cheaper options for products or about subscriptions outside of the App Store.

“We have a number of Apple issues, I find them very serious. I was very surprised that we would have such suspicions of Apple being non-compliant,” Vestager told CNBC’s Silvia Amaro.

Apple did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

“[Apple] are very important because a lot of good business happens through the App Store, happens through payment mechanisms, so of course, even though you know I can say this is not what was expected of such a company, of course we will enforce exactly with the same top priority as with any other business.”

Vestager added that the conclusions of the probe will be revealed “hopefully soon.”

The comments come after the Financial Times last week reported that Brussels is set to charge Apple under the DMA in relation to the probe, citing three people with close knowledge of the investigation. The charges would be preliminary and Apple could take actions to allay the concerns of the regulators, according to the FT.

CNBC could not independently confirm the report.

If it is found in breach of DMA rules, Apple could face fines of up to 10% of the company’s total worldwide annual turnover.

Over her 10 year tenure as the EU’s Competition Commissioner, Vestager has made a priority of restraining the power of large technology companies, as a way to level the playing field in the 27-nation bloc.

EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager holds a press conference in Brussels, Belgium March 25, 2024. 
Yves Herman | Reuters

She oversaw some of the biggest investigations into technology firms such as Google parent Alphabet and slapped tech giants with fines worth billions of dollars. A number of probes remain ongoing as she prepares to leave the office, including an antitrust investigation into Microsoft’s bundling of its video and chat app Teams with other Office products.

Speaking about the end of her mandate, Vestager said that she’s looking forward to rest.

“Well, I may sleep for a month or so because this has been 10 years hypercharged,” Vestager said. “I’m kind of looking forward to a new chapter.”

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