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European lawmakers welcome South Korean action on Apple, Google app stores, promise more regulatory efforts

The E.U. has been at the forefront of tech regulation, but legislators suggest broader actions are needed

South Korea’s lawmakers attend a plenary session at the National Assembly in Seoul. South Korea’s National Assembly approved legislation on Tuesday that bans app store operators such as Google and Apple from forcing developers to use their in-app payment systems. (Jin Sung-Chul/Yonhap/AP)
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BRUSSELS — South Korea’s passage of a bill to restrict how Apple and Google can operate their app stores was welcomed in the European Union, home to some of the world’s most ambitious attempts to regulate Big Tech companies.

But European legislators also said they favored a broader set of regulations.

Marcel Kolaja, a vice president of the European Parliament and a former software engineer, said Wednesday that the South Korean legislation, which would prohibit Apple and Google from requiring that developers use their in-app payment systems, is a sign that the tech giants’ app store dominance is “being addressed globally, which is absolutely needed.”

“This South Korean bill goes in the right direction, and I am happy that it’s not only the European Union that is looking into this systematic problem and trying to resolve it systematically,” Kolaja said.

The lawmaker said that allowing companies like Apple or Google to collect commissions of up to 30 percent is “unacceptable.” He said the companies’ citing of security for objecting to the new legislation appears to have more to do with their financial interest than actual worries about privacy and security.

“I am pretty sure that if someone’s 30 percent commission is in jeopardy, they would figure out all sorts of reasons it is impossible to make a change,” he said.

Legislation like South Korea’s is a good start, Kolaja added, but it’s “only a piece of the puzzle.”

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, did not comment on the legislation, and Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s top digital enforcer, also has not addressed it publicly.

Kolaja and other E.U. leaders have advocated a more comprehensive approach, such as the provisions included in the Digital Markets Act, one half of a sweeping package of legislation the bloc introduced in December.

Andreas Schwab, the parliament member responsible for the DMA, said that “an app store is not a free lunch” for the tech giants. The E.U. bill, which Schwab expects to be approved next year, also would outlaw the practice of companies requiring developers to use their payment systems.

But it would go further, he said, barring companies from requiring the use of a range of services.

“What is today the payment system can tomorrow be the data system,” Schwab said. “Just focusing on the tying of payment services would fall short from what the real problem is.”

Schwab also said that there should be an international standard for this sort of regulation, so that companies — especially new or smaller ones — aren’t forced to navigate a global maze of standards.

“The more rules we introduce on specific elements of the app store, the more complicated we make the life of the newcomers,” Schwab said. “The best would be to come to a transatlantic agreement on how to do this. If the Americans do something and the Europeans do something and the South Koreans do something, that’s not what makes markets grow, that makes bureaucracy and that’s not what is useful.”

Christel Schaldemose, a member of the European Parliament who is in charge of the Digital Services Act, a companion bill to the DMA, called the South Korean bill “an interesting law … that we need to follow the effects of from Europe.”

“The dominant tech giants need to be more open and to have broken up some of their monopoly-like status,” she said. “We had that fight with Microsoft about their Web browsers in the ’90s and early 2000s. Likewise, we need real competition when it comes to payment systems. This is something that hopefully can be solved with the DMA.”

The legislation in South Korea mirrors a proposal introduced by a bipartisan group of Senate and House lawmakers in the United States that would ban Google and Apple from forcing developers to use their payment systems, in addition to other restrictions on those marketplaces.

Cristiano Lima in Washington contributed to this report.