European Commission announces Statement of Objections in Apple vs Spotify antitrust case

  • The European Commission today issued a Statement of Objections against Apple, following a formal investigation after an antitrust complaint by Spotify.

  • Filed in March 2019, 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 charges; Europe must guarantee a level playing field on its Digital Single Market.

The European Commission has issued its official Statement of Objections in the Apple vs Spotify case today. A Statement of Objections is effectively a “charge sheet” whereby the Commission informs the defendant (in this case Apple) of the objections it intends to raise against it for suspected anti-competitive behaviour. The statement does not prejudge the outcome of the inquiry.

In March, the Greens in the European Parliament had already issued a statement in favour of sanctions against Apple. Rasmus Andresen, shadow rapporteur for the Digital Markets Act in the European Parliament’s industry committee,  stated, “The EU Commission needs to make sure that fair competition is happening again”. Indeed, the competition case is important in the context of the proposed regulation in digital competition. The upcoming Digital Markets Act defines a set of do’s and don’ts to address economic imbalances in digital markets. It promises to tackle the dominance of large gatekeeper platforms like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon Microsoft (GAFAM) and others.

A strong signal towards more fairness and balance in the digital environment

While past investigations into these tech giants have led to high fines, they have failed to substantially prevent unfair behaviour. Today, both smaller technology companies and traditional (small) businesses encounter issues of unfair treatment by large platforms, for instance when it comes to placing their products in app stores or when listing their products in large online marketplaces.

DIGITAL SME has repeatedly advocated for a level playing field for smaller software developers. In 2009, DIGITAL SME backed the Commission on its antitrust investigation against Microsoft for tying Explorer to Windows. Similarly, in 2016, DIGITAL SME spoke out against the dominant position of Google’s Play Store on Android phones. In the antitrust case against Google on Android (2016), DIGITAL SME represented the interests of SMEs as an independent intervener. “We decided to speak up because we believe that Europe needs an open and competitive digital ecosystem that enables innovation”, said Sebastiano Toffaletti, Secretary-General of DIGITAL SME.

As the pressure against large gatekeepers is building, DIGITAL SME will continue to advocate for a fair and open Digital Single Market

The Commission’s Statement of Objections against Apple is a sign of growing awareness that Europe needs more fairness and balance in the digital environment. “Small and medium-sized enterprises need a competitive market environment. Today, a number of large gatekeeper platforms dominate different fields, like search and browser, app stores and operating systems, or social media and instant messaging”, Secretary-General Toffaletti affirmed.

With the upcoming Digital Markets Act the European Union will have a formidable tool to tackle the harmful market dominance of large players. Until then, the Statement of Objections against Apple is a welcome step in the right direction, and it will hopefully be followed up by continuous efforts to reinstate the integrity and fairness of the Digital Single Market