French finance minister says tech giants that ‘lock in their users’ should be investigated

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iPhone with gavel.
A world first?
Photo: Tingey Injury Law Firm/Cult of Mac

France’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has lambasted companies such as Apple that “develop strategies to lock in their users” through the creation of ecosystems. Speaking Tuesday, Le Maire said that these companies represent a “competition issue” that should be scrutinized by antitrust investigators.

Le Maire’s comment was broader than just Apple. But he did note that Apple’s market capitalization is now larger than the capitalization” of all the CAC 40. This refers to the benchmark French stock market index.

At time of writing, Apple’s market cap stands at $2.069 trillion, a dip from Apple’s September 1 high just after AAPL stock split 4-for-1.

Le Maire called for the creation of more “European champions” that could rival Western tech giants, many of which are located in Silicon Valley. 

Europe will introduce a “new competition tool” sometime this year. Speaking about the takeover of European companies, Le Maire said that:

“We should not wait for all European companies to be overtaken by foreign giants to react. This regulation would specifically target digital platforms that had acquired dominant positions on the market with significant network effects and acting as gatekeepers, it would prevent locking in, and predatory strategies with tailor-made and proportionate measures.”

Apple vs. the European Commission

These comments, reported by Euractiv, are interesting. It’s no secret that Europe has gone after some big tech giants. For evidence, look no further than the massive $14.8 billion tax bill leveled at Apple a few years ago. Various European countries, and the EC itself, are also examining antitrust charges aimed at Big Tech.

But Le Maire’s comments suggest that the issue could be more fundamental than just a few services provided by Apple. Apple’s always been an odd case when it comes to antitrust. It’s the world’s biggest tech giant, but it is also not a market leader in any one area. iOS is second to Android in market share. Apple Music is smaller than Spotify. The App Store isn’t as big as Google Play, and so on.

However, the accusation that — by creating an ecosystem that locks users in — Apple could be guilty of anti-competition issues seems to be a more profound disagreement. While Apple allows rival services to be used (for instance, you can use Google Maps instead of Apple Maps) its vertical model of creating hardware and software, and exerting control on both, seems to open it up for extra scrutiny.

We’ll continue to cover this story as it develops.