European Commission announces formal investigation into Apple’s alleged anti-competitive behaviour against Spotify

  • The European Commission today announced that it will open a formal investigation following an antitrust complaint against Apple

  • Filed in March 2019 by Spotify, the complaint alleged arbitrary restrictions and “taxes” imposed by Apple on competing third-party apps that are distributed via its App Store

  • DIGITAL SME welcomes the Commission’s investigation; Europe must guarantee a level playing field on its Digital Single Market.

“It appears that Apple obtained a ‘gatekeeper’ role when it comes to the distribution of apps and content to users of Apple’s popular devices.” Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, who is in charge of the European Commission’s competition portfolio, found clear words in a Commission communication today. “The European Commission has opened formal antitrust investigations to assess whether Apple’s rules for app developers on the distribution of apps via the App Store violate EU competition rules”, reads the communication, which follows a formal antitrust complaint against Apple’s allegedly anti-competitive behaviour on its App Store launched by Spotify and over a year ago.

DIGITAL SME welcomes the announcement by the European Commission. “Competition rules are crucial to ensure a level playing field for European companies in the digital era”, wrote DIGITAL SME President Dr Oliver Grün in a recent op-ed.

The stakes are high for Europe’s app developers, large and small. The openness and fairness of big platforms is a necessary requirement for the functioning of the free market in the digital age. If software platforms like app stores favour their own apps over third-party competition apps, smaller players don’t stand a fair chance to sell their products. Such a development could severely stifle innovation in a time when Europe most needs it to emerge as a global leader in digital transformation.

A landmark case for EU competition law?

The European Commission’s announcement is a much-needed indicator that the voice of SMEs is being heard at the highest level of EU policymaking. It aligns with the position of Europe’s SMEs, which strongly advocate for keeping the Platform-to-Business (P2B) market fair and open. Small business representatives have also asked for a clear legal framework to prohibit potentially unfair practices by platforms like Apple’s app store.

“We are monitoring the situation closely. If the Commission finds anti-competitive behaviour by Apple and punishes it adequately, this case could become a landmark for EU competition law”, commented DIGITAL SME Secretary-General Sebastiano Toffaletti in a first statement after the EC’s announcement. The case is not just about Spotify; if the EU sends a strong signal for fair and open digital platforms now, the positive spillover for SMEs could be considerable. DIGITAL SME encourages all businesses who have experienced similar disadvantages to fill out the survey on unfair platform practices