Apple Could Be Forced to Let iPhone Users Uninstall Photos App in Europe: Report

Apple has reportedly found itself in hot water with the European Union (EU) again. Earlier this year, the EU brought the Digital Markets Act (DMA) into effect with a deadline of March 6. Among many user-centric policies, the act also required consumer tech companies to focus on interoperability and offer an open ecosystem where users have a choice in picking a particular app in a device as the default. While Apple added support for alternative app marketplaces and allowed third-party browsers to run their engine to comply with the act, the EU believes the Photos app is still in violation.

On March 25, the European Commission (EC) opened a non-compliance investigation against Apple, Google, and Meta. For Apple, three reasons were listed in the press release which stated, “The Commission has opened proceedings against Apple regarding their measures to comply with obligations to (i) enable end users to easily uninstall any software applications on iOS, (ii) easily change default settings on iOS and (iii) prompt users with choice screens which must effectively and easily allow them to select an alternative default service, such as a browser or search engine on their iPhones.”

According to a report by Daring Fireball’s John Gruber, part one of the above-stated reasons refers to the Photos app. Gruber highlights this from the remarks of EC’s Executive Vice President, Margrethe Vestager. She said, “Apple also failed to make several apps un-installable (one of them would be Photos) and prevents end-users from changing their default status (for example Cloud), as required by the DMA.”

Allowing users to delete the Photos app might be tricky for the iPhone maker. As Gruber pointed out in the report, Apple’s system apps are deeply integrated into the operating system. The Photos app, for example, is not just an app to see the photos in the gallery but also serves the purpose of granting third-party apps different levels of access to it to enhance security. The Photos app is also integrated with iCloud and allows users to share selected albums or the entire gallery with other users. To make the Photos app uninstallable and allow a third-party gallery app with the same access might require Apple to re-engineer the entire iOS itself.

With the non-compliance case now open, the EC intends to conclude the proceedings within 12 months. Apple will now have to undergo an investigation where if the regulators do not give justifiable reasons for not making the app uninstallable, Apple might have to pay up to 20 percent of its total worldwide revenue in fines. The EC highlights that in cases of systematic infringements, it may also oblige the gatekeeper (the consumer tech company) to sell a business or parts of it, or ban it from acquiring additional services related to the non-compliance.

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