Device Manufacturers Could Let Users Remove Preinstalled Apps, at Least in Europe

The proposed Digital Markets Act (DMA) in the European Union would make it difficult for phone manufacturers to ship devices with preinstalled apps that users can’t remove.

Users’ ability to remove any app deemed unnecessary seems like a no-brainer, but the market is swayed by financial interests and not quality-of-life features for users. For the longest time, some manufacturers shipped devices with preinstalled apps, which in the long run works to the competition’s detriment as it discourages users from seeking alternatives.

The Digital Markets Act defines large online platforms as ‘gatekeepers’ and outlines some of their roles, along with do’s and don’ts. One of the proposal’s key points refers specifically to users’ rights when it comes to the apps on their devices: “prevent users from uninstalling any preinstalled software or app if they wish so.”

One of the voices pointing out the problems with preinstalled apps is Proton’s CEO, representing a company known for its Protonmail product. But he also says DMA won’t provide enough support.

“The DMA fails to address Big Tech’s most harmful form of self-preferencing — their power to preinstall apps and make them the default option on smartphones and other mobile devices,” says Andy Yen, according to Euractiv. “The current text of the DMA only allows people to uninstall preinstalled apps, which does not solve the problem.”

Another European organism, the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications (BEREC), also says the gatekeepers’ behavior is problematic.

“BEREC identified unfair practices in which gatekeepers have the ability and may have the incentive to engage (e.g., unfair denial of access to essential inputs or assets, refusal of proportionate interoperability, imposing unreasonable terms and conditions and which should be prevented ex ante, given their potentially irreversible effects on competition, innovation and end-users’ choice,” states BERC.

Even if approved by the European Parliament and Council, it won’t be possible to enforce it until 2023. Even then, it’s likely to affect only European countries.