Spotify: Apple abuses App Store’s power to ‘stifle’ rivals

Spotify's Daniel Ek presents on stage

Spotify blasted Apple for wielding its App Store as a cudgel to stifle innovation, weaken competition and unfairly tax its rivals, CEO Daniel Ek said in a post Wednesday, after the world’s biggest music streaming service filed a complaint with European regulators.

“In Apple‘s case, they continue to give themselves an unfair advantage at every turn,” Ek said in his note.

The conflict pits Apple, a gadget giant whose App Store is essential for mobile services to thrive, against the biggest subscription-music service in the world and one of the most popular iOS apps. If the complaint snowballs into regulatory action against the App Store — and the EU has demonstrated an eagerness to take on tech’s abuses of power lately — it could have implications for the business fortunes of many apps you use everyday.

Apple didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment. A representative for the European Commission confirmed it received a complaint from Spotify, saying the body is assessing it under its standard procedures.

Spotify’s agitation about Apple’s App Store, which stretches back several years, centers on its claims Apple abuses its position as both a direct competitor to Spotify as well as the owner of its powerful app marketplace. In 2016, Spotify claimed that Apple was refusing to approve an update to its iOS app as a way to kneecap Spotify as Apple was ramping up its rival service, Apple Music. (Apple rejected that charge, saying Spotify had been seeking preferential treatment.) And Spotify has complained more recently that Apple’s 30 percent fee it takes for some app payments, like when you upgrade your Spotify account from free to premium, is used as a tool to throttle competitors.

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“Apple has introduced rules to the App Store that purposely limit choice and stifle innovation at the expense of the user experience essentially acting as both a player and referee to deliberately disadvantage other app developers,” Ek said.

He added that Spotify’s complaint to the European Commission followed the company’s unsuccessful attempts to resolve its problems with Apple directly.

Ek specifically highlighted the 30 percent fee that Apple charges for app payments made through its system. Spotify if forced to choose to either charge Apple customers extra when they sign up for subscriptions through their iPhone apps or taking a revenue hit on the revenue for every app-based subscriber that Apple Music doesn’t have to pay, he said.

Yet “if we choose not to use Apple’s payment system, forgoing the charge, Apple then applies a series of technical and experience-limiting restrictions on Spotify,” he said, saying Apple limits Spotify’s communication with our customers, in some cases blocking Spotify from sending emails to its customers who use Apple.

“Apple also routinely blocks our experience-enhancing upgrades. Over time, this has included locking Spotify and other competitors out of Apple services such as Siri, HomePod, and Apple Watch,” Ek said. “We aren’t seeking special treatment. We simply want the same treatment as numerous other apps on the App Store, like Uber or Deliveroo, who aren’t subject to the Apple tax and therefore don’t have the same restrictions.”

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