Apple prefers fine to obeying anti-trust order, EU's competition chief says

Apple is waging a global battle over fees for downloads and content on smartphones and tablets. PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUSSELS (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Apple and other technology giants are opting to pay fines rather than comply with orders they do not like, the European Union's anti-trust chief warned.

"Some gatekeepers may be tempted to play for time or try to circumvent the rules," Ms Margrethe Vestager said in an online speech at a United States awards ceremony.

"Apple's conduct in the Netherlands these days may be an example," said Ms Vestager, who is the European Commission's executive vice-president in charge of competition and digital policy. The iPhone maker "essentially prefers paying periodic fines rather than comply" with a Dutch anti-trust order to offer alternative app payments.

A new EU law imposing curbs on big tech behaviour should help tackle the problem, she added in the speech, delivered Tuesday (Feb 22).

Apple is waging a global battle over fees for downloads and content on smartphones and tablets. The EU is separately probing Apple over curbs that hamper Spotify Technology and other music streaming services from taking payments outside the app store.

Apple has now been fined 25 million euros (S$37.8 million) by Dutch anti-trust regulators for not fully complying with a December order to offer payments outside the app store to dating app providers.

Cupertino-based Apple is challenging the Dutch decision and said earlier this month that changes it was making to set up a separate payment mechanism for dating apps in the Netherlands satisfied legal obligations in the country.

The Authority for Consumers and Markets insists Apple is not complying with the order and rejected Apple's moves as putting an unreasonable burden on software developers and not amounting to compliance.

The Dutch anti-trust watchdog fined Apple 5 million euros on Monday, the fifth such penalty in successive weeks in a row since the company missed a Jan 15 deadline to make changes that the authority had mandated.

Neither Apple nor the authority have commented on whether any of the weekly fines have been paid, but it is understood that all are still outstanding.

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