A remark by EU competition head Margrethe Vestager has suggested that Apple may be required to let iPhone owners delete the Photos app.

While this possibility hasn’t previously been raised, Vestager mentioned in a brief speech that this was one of the things Apple had failed to do in its DMA response – and it would obviously involve a massive change to the way iOS works …

Daring Fireball’s John Gruber spotted the remarks, which Vestager made last week.

Under Article 6(3) of the DMA, gatekeepers have an obligation to enable easy uninstallation of apps and easy change of default settings. They must also display a choice screen. Apple’s compliance model does not seem to meet the objectives of this obligation […]

Apple also failed to make several apps un-installable (one of them would be Photos).

As Gruber notes, this would involve massive rewriting of iOS, to support alternative default photo-management apps.

Photos is not just an app on iOS; it’s the system-level interface to the camera roll. This is integrated throughout the entire iOS system, with per-app permission prompts to grant differing levels of access to your photos.

Vestager is saying that to be compliant with the DMA, Apple needs to allow third-party apps to serve as the system-level image library and camera roll. That is a monumental demand, and I honestly don’t even know how such a demand could be squared with system-wide permissions for photo access.

Some commentators – Gruber among them – have been making the unlikely suggestion that the scope of the EU’s demands might result in Apple ceasing to sell iPhones within the member countries. The logic put forward is that, with potential fines of up to 10% of global revenue, and EU sales accounting for roughly 7% of same, it might be the cheaper option.

EU commissioner for the internal market Thierry Breton dismissed this possibility.

A market of 450 million customers is simply unthinkable for anyone not to be there.

Where the digital giants could pay fines of several billion dollars without batting an eye — by the way, when they had to pay them, after long years of procedures, which was not systematic, far from it — today none of them can afford not to be in our market.

9to5Mac’s Take

As with the DOJ’s antitrust lawsuit in the US, the way the DMA is being interpreted does in some areas seem to push the limits of what would be reasonable and practical, and this is for sure one of them.

Photos are arguably the single most sensitive form of personal data, and Apple goes to great lengths to ensure that they are properly protected. If a third-party app wants to access our photos (which is to say, wants to access Apple’s Photos app), it has to ask user permission. Apple allows us to grant permission for specified photos only, or for all photos. iOS also proactively reminds us from time to time that particular apps still have access to our photos, and checks whether we want that permission to remain in place.

Allowing a third-party app to take over the role of Photos would, for me, be way too risky.

As for Apple leaving the EU market, I agree with Breton that it’s not a realistic prospect. But then, I would argue the same with Apple being fined 10% of global turnover: That’s a scary prospect intended to shock companies into compliance. The EU has had powers to levy similar percentage-based fines for years now, like 4% of global turnover for breaching the GDPR privacy law, but no fines issued have ever come anywhere remotely close to the maximum.

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