How can we tackle the computer giants ourselves?

10 June 2018

How can we tackle the computer giants ourselves?

Foto: FHKE
A few months back I received, not for the first time, an email from someone who complained about the fact that, having bought an Apple product such as an I-pad, you are then obliged to buy all of your apps from the App Store. The same goes for hardware, because Apple has its own data sticks and makes no use of standard models such as USB. The European Commission stresses its alleged belief in open competition, but in reality protects Apple in this case from the market. Competition Commissioner Margrethe Verstager refused, however, to give a direct commitment in answer to my written questions on this matter, because she had yet to receive a formal complaint. Perhaps we could help her out by lodging one.

European competition policy is complicated and in my view rather strange. The Commission doesn't concern itself about the actual number of firms offering a particular product or service, but only with whether a firm is abusing its market position. Moreover, the Commission conducts no active ongoing investigation into these matters, but comes into action in most instances only following a formal complaint. Now while the Commission treats complaints about governments failing to abide by EU legislation sympathetically, finding a form to make a complaint about a firm’s practises is more difficult. Complaining to our national body, the Dutch Authority on the Consumer and the Market (ACM), can be done (in English as well as Dutch) via their online complaints form, and if the ACM receives enough complaints about a company, they can pass it on to the Commission. There is then a formal complaint.

Commissioner Verstager has no hesitation in tackling multinationals. She has already brought an action against Microsoft for installing their own applications, such as their internet browser, as standard on computers. Unfortunately, she has not completely broken the power of these multinationals. In order to change that, you would need rules to ensure sufficient parties on a given market. In my view sectors where there are insufficient competing parties are everyone's concern, but I can't see the liberal Commissioner going that far. But let her in any case deal with Apple's practise of tied sales. If you too are irritated by these Apple Apps and data sticks, then make a complaint. Who knows? Apple might then be forced to use open standards. And that would be best for everyone.

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