Europe wants WhatsApp and Apple's iMessage to open up and work together

Europe will soon force messaging "gatekeepers" like Apple, Facebook's Meta, and Google to ensure messages work with smaller companies if users demand it.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

The European Union has overnight made itself the toughest regulator of US tech firms in the world with its new Digital Markets Act (DMA), which European politicians have agreed to support. 

The DMA will require a massive change in how tech giants handle messages that today are better than SMS with features like file-sharing and video, but also don't do what SMS does: transmit messages to any device based on a phone number. The proposed law is aimed at improving interoperability between Google's Android Messages app, Apple's iOS iMessage, and Facebook's WhatsApp as well as smaller messaging apps, like Discord. 

"EU lawmakers agreed that the largest messaging services (such as Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger or iMessage) will have to open up and interoperate with smaller messaging platforms, if they so request," the European Parliament said in a statement.  

"Users of small or big platforms would then be able to exchange messages, send files or make video calls across messaging apps, thus giving them more choice. As regards interoperability obligation for social networks, co-legislators agreed that such interoperability provisions will be assessed in the future."

The EU law adds a new thread to an ongoing dispute between Apple and Google over SMS. Google earlier this year blamed Apple for not supporting Rich Communication Services (RCS), the would-be successor to SMS that enables features in WhatsApp and iMessage saying this was stifling richer messaging features between iOS and Android devices. 

Samsung, the biggest non-Apple smartphone vendor in the US, recently made Google's RCS-enabled Messages app the default on its Galaxy smartphones.    

The language of the DMA has only been provisionally agreed by the EU parliament and still needs to be approved, but suggests big changes are afoot for "core platform services" if they are designated "gatekeepers". 

European politicians say these platforms are "most prone to unfair business practices, such as social networks or search engines, with a market capitalisation of at least 75 billion euro or an annual turnover of 7.5 billion."

"To be designated as "gatekeepers", these companies must also provide certain services such as browsers, messengers or social media, which have at least 45 million monthly end users in the EU and 10 000 annual business users."

"The agreement ushers in a new era of tech regulation worldwide," said the EU parliament's Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, Andreas Schwab. 

The rule will come into force 20 days after EU agrees on the final text and publishes it.

"The Digital Markets Act puts an end to the ever-increasing dominance of Big Tech companies. From now on, they must show that they also allow for fair competition on the internet. The new rules will help enforce that basic principle. Europe is thus ensuring more competition, more innovation and more choice for users," said Schwab. 

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen applauded a new deal struck with Biden about rules governing data flows between organizations in the US and Europe. 

The EU-US Data Privacy Shield was struck down by the European Court of Justice in 2021 because of conflicts it has with Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The agreement and its predecessor, Safe Harbor, was dismantled by Austrian lawyer and privacy activist Max Schrems because US laws allow their intelligence agencies to access private content from Europeans hosted in data centers in the US.    

"Pleased that we found an agreement in principle on a new framework for transatlantic data flows. It will enable predictable and trustworthy  data flows, balancing security, the right to privacy and data protection," she said. 

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