Meta hit with antitrust breach order in Turkey for combining user data across Fb, WhatsApp, Instagram

Meta won’t be quaking at the size of the penalty it’s just been handed by Turkey’s competition authority, which announced a 346.72 million lira sanction today.

The circa $18.6M fine pales in comparison to a number of recent stings hitting it from European regulators. Such as the $267M fine for WhatsApp in the European Union just over a year ago — for transparency breaches of the bloc’s data protection framework; or the $70M spank a year ago from the UK’s competition authority after it said Meta failed to comply with information requests during scrutiny of its purchase of Giphy. It was subsequently ordered by the UK’s CMA to undo that acquisition too, so the whole sorry saga will likely cost it considerably more.

Plenty more data protection complaints are still hanging over its head too, such as the one targeting its EU-US data flows that could see an order to suspend those transfers — and essentially shutter its service in Europe — in the coming months unless a looming replacement for the defunct Privacy Shield framework can be rushed into place first.

Still, it’s the crux of the Turkish fine — that Meta holds a dominant position in social media and sought to obstruct competitors by combining data between separate services it operates — that’s likely to send a chill down the social networking giant’s spine because its business runs on people profiling. And that runs on its ability to obtain people’s data and flesh out detailed ad profiles. So any regulatory roadblocks that cut into its ability to conduct its unfettered surveillance of Internet users poses an existential threat to its core microtargeting ad model.

The Turkish action is also of note because Germany’s competition regulator has had a similar concern for years.

It started investigating Facebook’s ‘superprofiling’ all the way back in March 2016 — going on to confirm an abuse finding in a February 2019 order which concluded that the company’s trampling of user privacy amounted to “exploitative abuse” and a violation of its dominant position in social networking. Hence the German FCO ordered Facebook to stop combining data on users of different products. But Meta appealed and an enforcement battle over that earlier German data separation order continues.

Its appeal was referred up to the bloc’s top court in March 2021 and is still pending a judgement (likely next year). But an opinion put out by influential advisor to the CJEU last month favored allowing antitrust authorities to consider data protection compatibility as part of their assessment of competition rules — which, if the court follows the AG’s view, would be bad news for Meta across the EU, as it would open the door to more competition watchdogs taking a non-siloed, ‘big picture’, comprehensive view of what it’s doing when assessing any antitrust concerns.

There is therefore a growing sense that international regulators are — gradually, inexorably — closing in on Meta’s legacy of moving fast and breaking things (or, as appears a better description of its modus operandi, hoovering up in all the data and pooling it into a massive data lake far from the reach of any user control, per leaked internal documents).

“By combining the data collected by [Meta] from Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp services… it causes the deterioration of competition by making it difficult for competitors with personal social networking services operating in online display advertising markets and creates barriers to entry to the market,” the Turkish competition authority wrote in a decision published today — following the culmination of an investigation — and explaining its decision to impose an administrative fine [the decision text is in Turkish; we’ve translated it here using machine translation].

The authority’s investigation kicked off last year after a controversial change to WhatsApp’s T&Cs caused a major privacy backlash around the world. And consumer protection regulators in Europe remain concerned about its T&Cs confusing consumers. So there could be more enforcements coming down the pipe on that front, too. (In addition to the massive GDPR ‘transparency’ fine mentioned above — and potentially more GDPR enforcements on a backlog of complaints still being chewed over by the tech giant’s lead data protection regulator in the EU.)

The Turkish competition authority found unanimously that Meta holds a dominant position in the social media market and unanimously concluded its behavior amounted to a breach of local competition law.

As well as being issued with a fine, the tech giant has been ordered to cease the violation — and establish “effective competition in the market” — with a deadline of one month provided for it to notify the authority of the steps it will take to do that; and a maximum of six months (from today’s decision) for implementing the measures, once approved.

Meta has also been ordered to report back to the regulator on the measures it’s taking for a period of five years.

The tech giant was contacted for comment on the Turkish authority’s sanction. A Meta spokesperson emailed this brief line — but did not confirm whether or not it will file an objection:

“We disagree with the findings of the Turkish Competition Authority. We protect our users’ privacy and provide people with transparency and control over their data. We will consider all our options.”

One thing is clear: Meta’s business is facing costly regulatory incursions on multiple fronts — which are threatening its ability to keep a grip on the world’s attention by ignoring privacy laws; threatening its ability to do that through the route of acquiring/assimilating other businesses to grab data that way (as well as threatening its ability to combine data across separate services it already owns); and threatening its ability to try to evade this legacy regulatory reckoning by skating its business to where it thinks the puck is headed (aka ‘the metaverse’) — by blocking its ability to use its market muscle to buy up VR startups that are seeing some nascent success (in what may, in any case, be overhyped vaporware).

Add to that, the rise in more joined-up regulatory thinking is only going to deepen these incursions.

Throw in Apple’s recent flex against the scourge of smartphone apps being silently, consentlessly repurposed as tentacles for surveillance advertising (aka App Tracking Transparency); and a raft of incoming legislation (such the EU’s Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act) that will further tighten ad giants’ room for manoeuver — and it sure looks like Meta’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, will have more reason than most humans to don a pair of VR goggles and float off in search of some digital escapism for years to come…

Meta hit with antitrust breach order in Turkey for combining user data across Fb, WhatsApp, Instagram by Natasha Lomas originally published on TechCrunch

Online travel giant faces antitrust probe in Spain

More tech antitrust activity: Spain’s competition watchdog has opened an investigation into potential anti-competitive behavior by the Dutch online travel agency giant,, following a couple of complaints lodged by the Spanish Association of Hotel Managers and the Regional Hotel Association of Madrid.

The national competition regulator said today that it will look into whether certain practices by constitute an abuse of a dominant position in the provision of intermediation services to hotels — and therefore whether it is imposing unfair trading conditions on hotels located in Spain and imposing commercial policies that may have exclusionary effects on other online travel agencies and online sales channels.

The Comisión Nacional de Los Mercados y La Competencia (CNMC) also said it will investigate whether’s conduct includes practices that constitute an exploitation of a position of economic dependency of hotels in Spain — and, therefore, amounts to “unfair competition acts affecting public interest due to the distortion of free competition they have produced”, as its press release puts it.

“After reviewing the complaints received and information gathered under the preliminary investigation, the Competition Directorate of the CNMC considers that there are grounds to support the possibility that B.V. may have breached articles 2 and 3 of the SCA [Spanish Competition Act] and article 102 of the TFEU [Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union],” the CNMC added. was contacted for comment.

The Spanish watchdog has up to 18 months to conduct its investigation and reach a final decision. It also noted that the opening of formal proceedings does not prejudge the final result.

The market power of, a veteran of the first wave of Internet startups, in the travel space has long been a cause concern for European Union lawmakers — apparently helping to compel a recent reboot to the bloc’s antitrust regime which is due to kick off next year. is a likely contender for being designated as a gatekeeper under this pan-EU Digital Markets Act (DMA) — which would trigger an ex ante regulation of its core platform service, requiring compliance with a set of up-front operational measures and conditions across its regional operations which are aimed at ensuring fair dealing with other businesses that rely on the platform to reach their own customers.

However the DMA is unlikely to immediately speed into action next year as the process of designating gatekeepers will take several (or even many) months as the Commission steps up to fulfil a new role regulating Big Tech.

That means that, in the meanwhile, national competition probes — such as the one announced today by Spain’s CNMC — have to fill the gap. In this case by relying on established (slower) competition regulation tools which typically require a robust investigation of a complaint prior to any intervention — a process that can take years for any necessary corrective orders to be made.

Online travel giant faces antitrust probe in Spain by Natasha Lomas originally published on TechCrunch

Apple’s payment options offer for Dutch dating apps is compliant, says ACM

The Netherlands’ competition regulator is finally happy with concessions by Apple to allow dating apps in the market to use alternative payment technologies.

Late Friday, the Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) provided an update on the multi-month saga which has drawn high level attention on Apple’s approach to complying with competition orders, saying the tech giant had changed unfair conditions it had been imposing following an order by the regulator to allow dating apps to use non-Apple payment tech for processing in-app purchases.

“Until recently, customers of dating apps had only been able to pay using the payment method that Apple imposed. In ACM’s opinion, Apple abused its dominant position with those practices,” the ACM wrote in the update. “From now on, dating-app providers are able to let their customers pay in different ways.”

The ACM has hit Apple with a series of fines since January — totalling €50 million — for non-compliance with its order, and had warned it could issue further penalties if Apple did not resolve its concerns.

The watchdog had been considering a revised offer Apple made back in March — after finding problems with how Apple had implemented earlier concessions and judging conditions it applied to be “unreasonable“, as well as accusing it of creating an “unnecessary barrier” for developers of dating apps.

“Apple now complies with the rules,” the regulator added. “That is why ACM no longer needs to impose a new order subject to periodic penalty payments. Over the past few months, ACM had collected information from dating-app providers and independent experts before its assessment that Apple complied with the order.”

Commenting in a statement, Martijn Snoep, chairman of the ACM’s board, also said: “We want everyone to be able to reap the benefits of the digital economy. In the digital economy, powerful companies have a special responsibility to keep the market fair and open. Apple avoided that responsibility, and abused its dominant position vis-à-vis dating-app providers. We are glad that Apple has finally brought its conditions in line with European and Dutch competition rules. That offers app providers more opportunities to compete. And consumers will ultimately reap the benefits, too.”

Details of how exactly Apple revised its concession to satisfy the ACM are not immediately clear — but, among a number of tweaks to its original offer, Apple previously dropped a requirement that dating apps compile a separate binary which the regulator had deemed overly burdensome.

In documentation for developers distributing dating apps in the Netherlands, Apple confirms they may do one of the following:

  1. continue using Apple’s in-app purchase system,
  2. use a third-party payment system within the app,
  3. include an in-app link directing users to the developer’s website to complete a purchase, or
  4. use a third-party payment system within the app and include a link directing users to the developer’s website to complete a purchase.

“Developers of dating apps who want to continue using Apple’s in-app purchase system may do so and no further action is needed. Those who want to use a different payment system will need to request the StoreKit External Purchase Entitlement or the StoreKit External Purchase Link Entitlement, or both,” Apple also writes.

“The entitlements that comply with the ACM order are only available for dating apps on the App Store in the Netherlands, and apps distributed pursuant to those entitlements must only be used in an iOS and/or iPadOS app on the Netherlands storefront. Apple will review each dating app submitted to ensure it complies with the terms and conditions of the entitlement, as well as the App Store Review Guidelines and the Apple Developer Program License Agreement,” it adds.

The ACM’s original order to Apple dates back to August 2021 but full details have still not been released as they remain under court seal following legal action by Apple — which filed an objection to the order and succeeded in suspending part of it until after that (ongoing) objection procedure against the full order is completed. Although the court allowed the ACM to publish a portion of the decision and levvy periodic penalty payments against Apple for non-compliance.

Apple was contacted for comment.

Apple’s tweaked antitrust offer drops separate binary requirement for Dutch dating apps

Apple has dropped a requirement for a separate binary which it had sought to impose on Dutch dating apps wanting to take up a legal entitlement to use non-Apple payment tech to process their in-app purchases.

Previously the company had argued that a separate binary was a “straightforward prerequisite” which did not impede its claimed compliance with the ACM’s antitrust order. (The Dutch regulator continued to disagree, however.)

In an update on “StoreKit External Entitlement for dating apps” posted to Apple’s developer site yesterday, the company said it had removed the requirement that developers of dating apps in the Netherlands who choose to use the entitlements must create and use a separate binary.

“This change means that developers may include either entitlement in their existing dating app but still must limit its use to the app in the Netherlands storefront and on devices running iOS or iPadOS,” Apple noted.

Additional tweaks Apple also said it had made yesterday are to payment service provider criteria — with the tech giant saying it is providing “updated and more-specific criteria to evaluate non-Apple payment service providers that developers of dating apps in the Netherlands may use” — as well as changes in the area of consumer disclosure.

On the latter Apple had added a requirement that Dutch dating app developers making use of the entitlements need to display an in-app notification to users explaining that they’re going to make purchases through an external payment system — “and the potential impact that choice could have on the user”, as Apple’s update blandly puts it.

The company writes that it is “adjusting the language on the modal sheet and reducing the number of times the sheet must be displayed” — so it looks relatively safe to assume that the original notification had been worded in such a way as to be deemed too scary/off-putting to users, making it less likely they’d go through with an ‘off-platform’ payment in the first place.

(Apple has been criticized along those lines for other types of notifications it bakes into iOS — such as when users want to give full permission to third keyboards to run on the platform, for example.)

Throughout this saga, the ACM has called out Apple for creating unreasonable friction for the developers in question — leading to a string of fines for non-compliance since January: Ten €5M fines in all, reaching a (current) total of €50M.

Apple and the ACM were contacted with questions on the development.

UK’s antitrust regulator to probe music streaming market

The UK’s antitrust watchdog will take a close look at the music streaming market.

Today the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced that it will be conducting a market study of music streaming as soon as possible, as its latest piece of work aimed at expanding competition in digital markets.

It uses market studies to identify competition and consumers issues — and, if needed, to look at how best to tackle problems.

The development could have implications for how mobile app stores and music streaming giants like Apple Music and Spotify can operate in the UK in the future — if the CMA decides it needs to step in and impose corrective measures.

The exact scope of the study is yet to be determined but in a letter to MPs the regulator said it will prioritize the work — writing:

“On 13 October, the Board considered initial proposals to carry out a markets project on music streaming. They agreed that work in this area aligned with the CMA’s prioritisation principles, and that it supported a strategic goal of the CMA to foster effective competition in digital markets, ensuring they operate in a way that promotes innovation and the consumer interest. On this basis, the Board agreed that there was merit in taking forward a market study. They also agreed, in the light of the concerns you have collectively expressed, that this work should be prioritised: that is, it should be the next market study that the CMA launches. CMA staff will now prioritise more detailed further work to refine and scope this project. This will again be considered by the Board, with a view to formally commencing the market study as soon as practically possible.”

The move follows a report by a parliamentary committee this summer which identified concerns over the economics of the music streaming market — such as the possible dominance of major music labels and the potential for contractual agreements between them and streaming services which could stifle innovation.

Last month, in its response to the DCMS Select Committee report, the government asked the CMA to examine the economics of the market to dig into concerns around transparency and fairness.

In a statement today, Andrea Coscelli, CEO of the CMA, said: “The UK has a love affair with music and is home to many of the world’s most popular artists. We want to do everything we can to ensure that this sector is competitive, thriving and works in the interests of music lovers.

“Over the past decade, the music industry has evolved almost beyond recognition, with streaming now accounting for more than 80% of all music listened to in this country. A market study will help us to understand these radical changes and build a view as to whether competition in this sector is working well or whether further action needs to be taken.”

The CMA is building out its knowledge base on all things digital and is set to have an expanded role in overseeing the digital sphere as the government is in the process of reforming digital competition rules to respond to concerns about the impact of tech giants.

A Digital Markets Unit has already been set up inside the regulator — pending legislation to establish its full powers. But the CMA has not been sitting on its hands waiting for the government to pass reforms.

It has previously conducted a study of the online advertising market — which led to a raft of concerns being identified that appear to be informing the government’s reshaping of UK digital competition rules.

It has also stepped in and put a regulatory brake on Google’s plans for phasing out third party tracking cookies — garnering commitments from the tech giant over how its planned ‘Privacy Sandbox’ alternative will function. That investigation remains ongoing.

Earlier this year the CMA also opened a market study of Apple and Google’s dominance of the mobile ecosystem. And Apple’s App Store is simultaneously under investigation by the regulator.

On the music streaming front, European Union regulators are a little ahead of their counterparts in the UK — back in April the Competition Commission charged Apple with an antitrust breach related to competition in the music streaming services market.

European music streaming rival, Spotify, had long complained about Apple’s T&Cs being ‘unfair’, although the EU’s competition chief, Margrethe Vestager, claimed its case is not about Spotify — saying that rather it’s about the conditions that Apple imposes on all music streaming providers that are trying to reach customers via its App Store.

Since the EU has identified concerns it’s a fairly safe bet the CMA’s market study will also find some issues to be addressed.

But it remains to be seen what the UK regulator may suggest if it does find problems — with a range of possible outcomes available to it, such as making recommendations to government to change regulations or public policy; encouraging relevant businesses to self-regulate; taking consumer or competition law enforcement action against firms; or opening a more in-depth market investigation.