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"Make Me Smart” Newsletter

The EU puts new limits on “digital gatekeepers”

Ellen Rolfes and Catherine Orihuela Mar 8, 2024
Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

Is it a problem that Europe’s most popular tech platforms are almost all American? When European Union leaders scrutinized the dominant platforms, they found that many tech giants had designed their products and services in ways that stifled competition. Their solution:The Digital Markets Act, which went into full effect this week.

What is the DMA? The Digital Markets Act, passed in 2020, requires “digital gatekeepers” to act less like monopolies. To start, the EU identified six companies in that category — Apple, Alphabet, Meta, Amazon, Microsoft and ByteDance — and mandated last year that they develop plans to open their products and platforms to more competition. The deadline for the companies to submit their plans came Wednesday.

Users are going to see big changes. The Verge has a full list of the updates that companies have implemented or plan to. Some highlights:

  • Smartphone operating systems will prompt users to proactively select their preferred search engine rather than allow the platform to automatically assign a default.
  • Messaging apps could soon allow users to send and receive messages from rival apps while using their preferred platform.
  • Users will be able to “sideload,” or download, third-party apps outside their phone’s primary app store.
  • Developers will be able to offer alternative billing systems outside a platform’s own app store. (It could make certain apps or services cheaper when developers don’t have to pay the “Apple tax.”)

Will it be enough? The digital gatekeepers hope their plans will appease the European Commission. But if not, the EU could levy fines as high as 20% of a company’s annual global revenue or even break up the business.

The law is less than a week old but rival companies have already questioned whether proposed changes will give them a real shot, especially when it comes to Apple. Epic Games accused Apple of intentionally terminating its developer account after the maker of Fortnite announced it would launch its own app store on iOS. In January, Spotify characterized new app install fees that Apple said it implemented to comply with the DMA as “extortion, plain and simple.” 

Tech policies in the EU may not trickle down to the U.S. It will be up to each company to decide whether it’ll make similar changes worldwide or offer different experiences to users outside the EU. It’s true that some European mandates have led to changes on the our side of the Atlantic. But remember that the tech giants have resisted or attempted to weaken DMA guidelines, so it’s hard to see why they’d voluntarily apply changes that could hurt their profitability.

Smart in a shot

A chart showing U.S. states with voting machines 10 years old or older: Oregon, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, Mississippi, Kansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, New York, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire.
Most states are using voting machines that are more than 10 years old, their typical lifespan. (Data: Verified Voting / Chart: Brennan Center for Justice)

If you were one of the millions of Americans in 15 states who hit the polls on Super Tuesday, hopefully you didn’t have to think too much about your voting machine. But their age and quality matter. Broken machines can leave voters questioning whether their votes were counted.

“Small technical failures with voting equipment can lead to viral misinformation about the trustworthiness in elections,” wrote the co-authors of a Verified Voting and Brennan Center for Justice report about the current costs of replacing voting tech.

As the chart above shows, many states’ voting machines have already aged beyond their expected useful lives, typically 10 years. 

First the good news: Since 2016, states have made progress updating their equipment, especially when it comes to sunsetting machines that did not produce paper backups of ballots. Ninety-nine percent of voters, and 100% of voters in battleground states, will be able to get paper records of the ballots they cast in 2024, which reduces the risks around machines that process inaccurate or manipulated ballot counts and makes it easier to audit results when disputed.

Caveats: Much of that progress has depended on large sums of money Congress provided to states to fund election security. Those funds have dwindled in recent years. And even though most paperless ballot machines have been retired, many jurisdictions are still using older systems, which are often difficult to repair because the machines and spare parts for them are no longer manufactured.

“What we really need is sustained federal funding, so that election officials can plan ahead and prepare for when they need to replace the technology when it’s right for their jurisdiction, not just when that money is there,” Megan Maier, a senior associate at Verified Voting and one of the report’s co-authors, said on “Marketplace Tech.” Listen to her full interview on our website or your preferred podcast platform.

The Numbers

It’s been a weird year for Hollywood. Streaming services were already reshaping the industry before the pandemic hit, and the long strikes by writers and actors disrupted a tenuous box office comeback. The Academy Awards are being presented Sunday, so let’s do the numbers.

$9 billion

U.S. box office revenue was around $9 billion in 2023, making it the best year for movies since 2019. In that pre-pandemic year, the industry racked up $11.4 billion in domestic ticket sales.

$2 billion

“Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” were the most highly anticipated releases last year, raking in more than a combined $2 billion worldwide. They both opened July 21, making Barbenheimer weekend the biggest movie weekend in years. “Barbie,” the top-grossing film both in the U.S. and worldwide, did most of the heavy lifting, and “Oppenheimer” is favored to win the best picture Oscar.


Among the best picture nominees, “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” also made the biggest returns on investment before marketing and other costs. As a general rule of thumb, movies need to make at least 2.5 times their budget to turn a profit. According to the available data on film budgets and global box office earnings from IMDb Pro, “Barbie” made back more than 14 times its $100 million budget. With the same budget, “Oppenheimer” made back more than nine times its investment. “Anatomy of a Fall” and “Poor Things” also met the 2.5x rule.


Disney earned 20 Oscar nominations, the most of any studio. That number includes Disney-owned Searchlight, which got 13 noms, 11 for “Poor Things.” Netflix and Universal followed with 18 each, and Apple scored 13 Oscar nods, 10 of which went to Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

191 days

That’s how long last year’s writers and actors strikes lasted. The WGA went on strike May 2, followed by SAG-AFTRA on July 14. The combined strikes brought the movie industry to a six-month standstill and caused major production shutdowns and scheduling delays.

With fewer wide releases and the aftershocks of the strikes still playing out, theater owners are concerned by how bare 2024 is looking. Industry analysts predict this year’s box office will take a $1 billion hit. So, it’s very likely we’ll see fewer films in the running at the Oscars in 2025.

None of us is as smart as all of us

Tell us what’s making you smarter at We’d love to include your recommendation in a future newsletter.

The “peak millennial” squeeze

Due to their numbers, so-called peak millennials, people born in 1990 and 1991, have faced fiercer competition for jobs and housing. Reporter Henry Epp is reading a New York Times article about how changes in generation size can impact economic outcomes.

Should YouTube be compared to newspapers?

Editor Tony Wagner is reading a Washington Post story about a case recently argued before the Supreme Court that dealt with the degree to which states can control content posted on social media. During oral arguments, Justice Samuel Alito Jr. asked a seemingly comical question, “Let’s say YouTube were a newspaper. How much would it weigh?” But it was part of the court’s quest to decide whether the rules that apply to newspapers should also apply to the video site.

More anime!

Last week’s deep dive explored the forces that have taken anime mainstream. We heard from many readers and listeners who wanted to know what anime might be worth watching. Host Kimberly Adams has these recs:

  • New to anime? Kimberly recommends “Fairy Tail” or “One Piece”: These have tons of episodes, so you’ll always have something to watch. If you prefer something darker or more serious, try “Death Note.” 
  • If Kimberly could only watch one anime for the rest of her life, it would be “Dr. Stone”: It’s all about rebuilding civilization from scratch, including lots of real science and survival techniques. So it might keep you alive in a pinch! Although if you have access to anime, you are probably in good shape.
  • Most of us have at least one “guilty pleasure” show. For Kimberly, that’s “Restaurant to Another World”: There’s a whole anime subgenre that focuses on extremely detailed descriptions of food and cooking and builds stories around restaurants, chefs and customers. It’s fun to see the descriptions of the dishes and how they are made as well as how different foods are animated.

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