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EU targets Apple Pay, App Store with antitrust investigations

Apple lands at the center of two investigations, including one triggered by a Spotify complaint, on the same day.

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Apple is under the microscope in Europe.

Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Within the course of a single day, Apple has found itself the subject of two new EU antitrust probes. Europe's Competition Commission announced on Tuesday that it is opening dual investigations into Apple Pay and the App Store.

The App Store investigation was triggered by a complaint from Spotify over a year ago tied to the high fees Apple charges companies when consumers make in-app purchases. The investigation will focus on the restrictions Apple places on developers to inform consumers of payment options that may be cheaper outside of the app.

"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," said EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager in a statement. "We need to ensure that Apple's rules do not distort competition in markets where Apple is competing with other app developers, for example with its music streaming service Apple Music or with Apple Books."

Spotify welcomed the investigation Tuesday, calling on the commission to act urgently.  

"Today is a good day for consumers, Spotify and other app developers across Europe and around the world," Spotify said in a statement. "Apple's anticompetitive behavior has intentionally disadvantaged competitors, created an unlevel playing field, and deprived consumers of meaningful choice for far too long."

The investigation into Apple Pay will focus on the way Apple restricts rival apps and services from making use of the iPhone's NFC capabilities, which enables Apple Pay's tap-and-go feature.

"It is important that Apple's measures do not deny consumers the benefits of new payment technologies, including better choice, quality, innovation and competitive prices," said Vestager. She added that the coronavirus outbreak had demonstrated the importance of being able to use contactless payment in stores.

For Apple, this isn't the first run-in with Europe's Competition Commission or Vestager. In 2016, Apple CEO Tim Cook responded to a $14.5 billion tax penalty handed out by Vestager by calling it "political crap."

Apple responded to the EU's announcement on Tuesday by saying it follows the law in everything it does and embraces competition at every stage.

"It's disappointing the European Commission is advancing baseless complaints from a handful of companies who simply want a free ride, and don't want to play by the same rules as everyone else," said a spokesman for the company. "We don't think that's right -- we want to maintain a level playing field where anyone with determination and a great idea can succeed."

There's no indication at this stage how long the investigations might take, but previous investigations into US tech giants have run for years before a decision is announced. If the Commission decides Apple has broken competition law and a fine is issued, the company will be able to appeal the decision.

Joan E. Solsman contributed to this article. 

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