Apple Says It Will Prevent E.U. Users From Accessing Select New Features, Including Apple Intelligence, Until It Has Achieved DMA Compliance

Javier Espinoza and Michael Acton, Financial Times:

Apple has warned that it will not roll out the iPhone’s flagship new artificial intelligence features in Europe when they launch elsewhere this year, blaming “uncertainties” stemming from Brussels’ new competition rules.

This article carries the headline “Apple delays European launch of new AI features due to EU rules”, but it is not clear to me these features are “delayed” in the E.U. or that they would “launch elsewhere this year”. According to the small text in Apple’s WWDC press release, these features “will be available in beta […] this fall in U.S. English”, with “additional languages […] over the course of the next year”. This implies the A.I. features in question will only be available to devices set to U.S. English, and acting upon text and other data also in U.S. English.

To be fair, this is a restriction of language, not geography. Someone in France or Germany could still want to play around with Apple Intelligence stuff even if it is not very useful with their mostly not-English data. Apple is saying they will not be able to. It aggressively region-locks alternative app marketplaces to Europe and, I imagine, will use the same infrastructure to keep users out of these new features.

There is an excerpt from Apple’s statement in this Financial Times article explaining which features will not launch in Europe this year: iPhone Mirroring, better screen sharing with SharePlay, and Apple Intelligence. Apple provided a fuller statement to John Gruber. This is the company’s explanation:

Specifically, we are concerned that the interoperability requirements of the DMA could force us to compromise the integrity of our products in ways that risk user privacy and data security. We are committed to collaborating with the European Commission in an attempt to find a solution that would enable us to deliver these features to our EU customers without compromising their safety.

Apple does not explain specifically how these features run afoul of the DMA — or why it would not or could not build them to clearly comply with the DMA — so this could be mongering, but I will assume it is a good-faith effort at compliance in the face of possible ambiguity. I am not sure Apple has earned a benefit of the doubt, but that is a different matter.

It seems like even the possibility of lawbreaking has made Apple cautious — and I am not sure why that is seen as an inherently bad thing. This is one of the world’s most powerful corporations, and the products and services it rolls out impact a billion-something people. That position deserves significant legal scrutiny.

I was struck by something U.S. FTC chair Lina Khan said in an interview at a StrictlyVC event this month:

[…] We hear routinely from senior dealmakers, senior antitrust lawyers, who will say pretty openly that as of five or six or seven years ago, when you were thinking about a potential deal, antitrust risk or even the antitrust analysis was nowhere near the top of the conversation, and now it is up front and center. For an enforcer, if you’re having companies think about that legal issue on the front end, that’s a really good thing because then we’re not going to have to spend as many public resources taking on deals that we believe are violating the laws.

Now that competition laws are being enforced, businesses have to think about them. That is a good thing! I get a similar vibe from this DMA response. It is much newer than antitrust laws in both the U.S. and E.U. and there are things about which all of the larger technology companies are seeking clarity. But it is not an inherently bad thing to have a regulatory layer, even if it means delays.

Is that not Apple’s whole vibe, anyway? It says it does not rush into things. It is proud of withholding new products until it feels it has gotten them just right. Perhaps you believe corporations are a better judge of what is acceptable than a regulatory body, but the latter serves as a check on the behaviour of the former.

Apple is not saying Europe will not get these features at all. It is only saying it is not sure it has built them in a DMA compliant way. We do not know anything more about why that is the case at this time, and it does not make sense to speculate further until we do.