A dispute between Spotify and Apple has blown up into a public battle.
In an antitrust complaint to the European Commission, the music streaming service accused Apple of abusing its control over its App Store and unfairly “taxing” apps like Spotify that compete with Apple’s own streaming service, said Daniel Ek, the company’s chief executive.
“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 in a statement on the company’s website.
The escalating conflict highlights growing criticism over the way Apple and Google control customer access to digital services. Through their app stores, the two tech giants have for years acted as gatekeepers to iPhone and Android users, dictating how many people shop for apps and pay for their services.
Spotify’s complaint against Apple arrived on the same day an expert panel convened by the British government called for a reinvigorated approach to antitrust enforcement, targeting tech giants such as Amazon, Facebook and Google.
In a report published Wednesday, the experts proposed that Britain form a new digital competition regulator to boost innovation and consumer choice. The agency would have the power to enforce a code of conduct for major tech companies and would compel platforms to share valuable data about consumers with their competitors to lower the barriers to entry and loosen the concentration of market power.
The report came on the heels of an even more aggressive antitrust proposal advanced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that calls for breaking up U.S. tech giants.
Ek accused Apple of using the App Store as a way to stifle market competition. He emphasized that Apple requires Spotify and other digital services to pay a 30 percent tax on purchases made through Apple’s payment system. He explained that the charge could push Spotify to inflate its prices above the cost for a subscription to Apple Music, Apple’s music streaming service. If Spotify chooses not to use the payment system and avoid the 30 percent charge, Ek said, Apple can complicate matters for Spotify, such as limiting its ability to communicate with customers or blocking upgrades.
Spotify ended support for Apple’s in-app subscription payments system for its premium service in 2016.
Ek said he is asking the European Commission to take action only after he tried unsuccessfully to resolve the matter with Apple directly.
A spokesman for the European Commission said that it had received a complaint from Spotify and is assessing it under standard procedures. Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ek said that Spotify is not asking for special treatment but would like Apple to treat it like other apps that are not subject to the 30 percent fee. He said Spotify is asking for three commitments: Services in the App Store, including Apple Music, should be subject to the same rules; consumers should have choice over which payment systems to use for the apps; and app stores should be blocked from controlling communications between services and their customers.
Spotify is not the only company to object to the app store practices of Apple and Google, which operates Google Play. A growing number of software companies, including Netflix and the developers behind the popular video game Fortnite, are aiming to bypass app stores altogether, or minimize Apple’s involvement in payments.
But subscription fees are a lucrative source of revenue for Apple. Through in-app billing, Apple grabs a 30 percent cut of revenue from a service’s first-year subscriptions, and 15 percent of revenue generated by long-term customers. Apple made as much as $257 million last year from Netflix’s subscriptions, according to one estimate.