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Let’s make Device Neutrality a reality in Europe!

Aktualizované:

As the Digital Markets Act comes into effect today, Device Neutrality starts to become a tangible reality in the European Union. While acknowledging the new law, the FSFE alerts that this is only the first step and further commitment is necessary.

Image of an European Union flag with the ilustration of Device Neutrality, a bird being free of its cage

Digital devices are becoming increasingly important tools in our daily tasks, with more and more of us using them in different areas of our lives. However, we, as end-users, are losing control over them – especially the ability to run Free Software – due to unfair practices by device manufacturers, vendors, and platforms.

Device Neutrality aims to restore end-user control over devices by ensuring software freedom in devices, protecting users from lock-ins and promoting their control over data in devices. It seeks to enable end-users to run the software of their choice and use services independently of the control exercised by hardware manufacturers, vendors, and platforms, known as gatekeepers.

Some aspects of Device Neutrality are imposed on large tech companies by the Digital Markets Act (DMA), a recent EU law that enters into force on 7 March, to reestablish higher degrees of competition in digital markets. Therefore, the DMA will be applicable to six gatekeepers: Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Bytedance, Meta, and Microsoft.

The FSFE has been involved with the DMA throughout the legislative process, and welcomes its entry into force, which makes several elements of Device Neutrality legally enforceable. However, while the DMA represents a very important step in holding gatekeepers accountable for their negative disruptions and distortions in digital markets, the law alone is not enough to promote Device Neutrality to the extent necessary to re-empower end-user control over devices.

The Digital Markets Act: only a first step towards Device Neutrality

Initially, the enforcement of the DMA will be challenging, as the law addresses diverse aspects of devices including the (un)installation of software, the use of third-party apps stores and payment systems, interoperability obligations for operating systems and messaging apps, and some degree of real-time data portability. Imposing legal obligations on such elements will require considerable enforcement efforts and proper monitoring of the technical solutions implemented by the gatekeepers.

Besides, similarly to Router Freedom where network operators create various barriers and hurdles for end-users to exercise that right, gatekeepers may try hard to avoid implementing solutions that will fully benefit end-users, but rather may use the law in ways that can hinder end-users’ rights related to Device Neutrality. For instance, the tech company Apple – one of the gatekeepers – has already gone to court to avoid the DMA obligations, and decided to implement an absurd strategy against third-party apps stores (PDF) that will negatively impact the ability of alternatives such as F-Droid to enter iOS environments.

For these reasons, the FSFE will collaborate with the European Commission and other regulators to monitor compliance with the DMA, so that the DMA will act as a catalyst for Device Neutrality rather than an additional barrier to it.

“DMA represents a bold step from the EU to regulate large companies acting as gatekeepers over devices. However, proper implementation of the law will be challenging, and it will require strict monitoring from civil society to safeguard Device Neutrality. Open Internet needs Device Neutrality. Free Software is key to achieve that”.

-Lucas Lasota, FSFE’s Legal Programme Manager -

Going beyond very large platforms

The DMA is limited to big tech companies. The law only applies to enterprises providing services to at least 45 million monthly active end-users established or located in the EU on a yearly basis. Taking into account other quantitative restrictions, Device Neutrality is safeguarded by the law against only a handful of gatekeepers. Smaller companies may also engage in predatory behavior against Device Neutrality, negatively impacting end-users' rights. However, they are not covered by the DMA.

That’s why the FSFE is promoting Device Neutrality in a much broader context to include not only large companies but any device manufacturer, vendor, or platform. We strongly believe that software freedom should be the default standard and end-users should not be imprisoned into lock-ins. Tech companies should not trap users into walled gardens that limit what they can do with their devices.

Image of the front side of the Device Neutrality poster, showing the illustration of a bird being free of its cage
Check the new webpage for Device Neutrality and help spread the word with our poster!

In parallel to its involvement with the DMA, the FSFE is launching a new website for Device Neutrality to raise public awareness of topics concerning Device Neutrality. This site points to in-depth insights about Device Neutrality and Free Software, downloadable promotional material, and ways to spread the word. Check it out!

Supporting the work on Device Neutrality

Higher degrees of openness and equality in digital markets can only be achieved when end-users can enjoy software freedom with their devices. The DMA is the first step, and the FSFE will continue to work for Device Neutrality in different areas: monitoring DMA implementation, overseeing compliance, collaborating with regulators and policy makers, promoting public awareness, and expanding the agenda beyond gatekeepers. For that, we count on your support for our work with a donation. Get active and help us empower you to regain control over your devices!

I want to donate for Device Neutrality!