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Regulators in Germany have declared that Apple’s size and importance means it qualifies for the country’s extended anti-competition law, and needs more scrutiny for potential anti-trust violations.
Germany is already investigating Apple over the alleged antitrust implications of its App Tracking Transparency feature in iOS.
Now, Germany’s Bundeskartellamt regulator has determined that Apple is subject to the 2021 amendment to the country’s German Competition Act (GWB). The new section 19a of that act came into effect in January 2019, and it is specifically aimed at firms the regulator determines to be of “paramount significance for competition across markets.”
“Apple has an economic position of power across markets which gives rise to a scope of action that is not sufficiently controlled by competition,” said Bundeskartellamt President Andreas Mundt, in a statement. “Based on its mobile end devices such as the iPhone, Apple operates a wide-ranging digital ecosystem which is of great importance to competition not only in Germany, but also throughout Europe and the world.”
“With its proprietary products iOS and the App Store, Apple holds a key position for competition as well as for gaining access to the ecosystem and Apple customers,” continued Mundt. “This decision enables us to specifically take action against and effectively prohibit anti-competitive practices.”
There is a clause in the regulations which means the Bundeskartellamt’s decision that Apple qualifies under this law, is limited to five years. It’s not clear whether the regulator can the simply re-issue the decision.
However, the announcement that Apple qualifies has started that five-year clock. It means that until 2028, Apple is “subject to special abuse control.”
The decision does not necessarily mean that Germany will open further legal cases against Apple, just that this regulator now has the authority to. It also does not impact other existing investigations, such as Germany’s Federal Cartel Office which also examining alleged antitrust issues regard the App Store.