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Spotify: Apple's App Store abuses its power to 'stifle' rivals

Spotify asked European regulators to force Apple's App Store onto a "level playing field."

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek

Daniel Ek has been CEO of Spotify since he co-founded it in 2006. 

Spotify

Apple wields its powerful App Store as a cudgel to stifle innovation, weaken competition and unfairly tax its rivals, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said 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 a post. 

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 every day. 

Spotify went so far as to create a cuddly animated video about its Apple grievances with Apple and built a website to detail them. 

Apple didn't respond to a messages 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, centering on its claims that Apple abuses its position both as a direct competitor to Spotify and as the owner of its powerful app marketplace. 

In 2016, Spotify argued that Apple was refusing to approve an update to its iOS app as a way to kneecap Spotify at the same time that 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 the 30 percent fee Apple 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 is forced to choose either to charge Apple customers extra when they sign up for subscriptions through their iPhone apps or to take a hit on the revenue for every app-based subscriber that Apple Music doesn't have to pay, he said. 

Yet, he said, "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 added that Apple limits Spotify's communication with customers, in some cases blocking Spotify from sending emails to those 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."

Originally published March 13 at 7:04 a.m. PT.
Updated March 14: with more details about Spotify's campaign.