Apple is distorting competition in music streaming market says European Commission

Commission says that Apple has abused its dominant position through the mandatory use of Apple's own in-app purchase mechanism

The European Commission has informed Apple that it believes that Apple distorted competition in the music streaming market because it abused its dominant position for the distribution of music streaming apps through its App Store. The Commission takes issue with the mandatory use of Apple's own in-app purchase mechanism imposed on music streaming app developers to distribute their apps via Apple's App Store. The Commission is also concerned that Apple applies certain restrictions on app developers preventing them from informing iPhone and iPad users of alternative, cheaper purchasing possibilities.  

The Commission has issued a Statement of Objections which concerns the application of these rules to all music streaming apps, which compete with Apple's music streaming app “Apple Music” in the EEA. It follows a complaint by Spotify and the Commission opening a subsequent investigation last year.

The Commission’s preliminary finding is that Apple has a dominant position in the market for the distribution of music streaming apps through its App Store. For app developers, the App Store is the sole gateway to consumers using Apple's smart mobile devices running on Apple's smart mobile operating system iOS. Apple's devices and software form a “closed ecosystem” in which Apple controls every aspect of the user experience for iPhones and iPads.

Apple's App Store is part of this ecosystem and the only app store that iPhone and iPad users can use to download apps for their mobile devices. The Commission found that users of Apple's devices are very loyal to the brand and they do not switch easily. Therefore, if they want to serve iOS users, app developers have to distribute their apps via the App Store, subject to Apple's mandatory and non-negotiable rules.

The Commission's concerns relate to the combination of the following two rules that Apple imposes in its agreements with music streaming app developers:

  • The mandatory use of Apple's proprietary in-app purchase system (IAP) for the distribution of paid digital content. Apple charges app developers a 30% commission fee on all subscriptions bought through the mandatory IAP. The Commission's investigation showed that most streaming providers passed this fee on to end users by raising prices.
  • “Anti-steering provisions” which limit the ability of app developers to inform users of alternative purchasing possibilities outside of apps. While Apple allows users to use music subscriptions purchased elsewhere, its rules prevent developers from informing users about such purchasing possibilities, which are usually cheaper. The Commission is concerned that users of Apple devices pay significantly higher prices for their music subscription services or they are prevented from buying certain subscriptions directly in their apps.

The Commission's says that Apple's rules distort competition in the market for music streaming services by raising the costs of competing music streaming app developers. This in turn leads to higher prices for consumers for their in-app music subscriptions on iOS devices. In addition, Apple becomes the intermediary for all IAP transactions and takes over the billing relationship, as well as related communications for competitors.

If confirmed, this conduct would infringe Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (which prohibits the abuse of a dominant market position). A Statement of Objections is a formal step in Commission investigations into suspected violations of EU antitrust rules. The Commission informs the parties concerned in writing of the objections raised against them. The addressees can examine the documents in the Commission's investigation file, reply in writing and request an oral hearing to present their comments on the case before representatives of the Commission and national competition authorities. Sending a Statement of Objections and opening of a formal antitrust investigation does not prejudge the outcome of the investigations.

Published: 2021-05-04T16:00:00

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