Commentary

Is Apple Set For A Google-Sized EU Fine?

It's the Google search manipulation case all over again -- only this time we have its arch mobile rival, Apple, potentially sitting in the dock courtesy of the complainant, Spotify.

Yesterday the Swedish streamer called for the European Commission to effectively repeat the case where Google was investigated for favouring itself in search, leading to a 2.4bn Euros fine. That was a record until Google got hit with a 4.34bn Euros fine over an anti-trust case concerning its mobile platform, Android.

I've had many conversations with many people across the EU and it seems the US tech giants do not grasp the simplest of inescapable facts. When you run a market, it's probably best not to compete in that market with the customers who use the market you have created. If you must, then you have to be completely transparent and offer a level playing field.

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Google fell foul of this simple axiom by creating new boxes in search results which regulators felt gave it an advantage. 

Apple is now being accused of doing much the same to Spotify. Everybody knows Apple is a pretty mercenary organisation. The 30% fee it takes from developers selling apps and app subscriptions is widely regarded as being a little on the heavy side. 

Spotify's point is that it meant its Premium service is at a disadvantage compared to Apple's equivalent. Any European Commission investigation will no doubt look at whether Apple charges its own music streaming service a 30% fee for downloads from the App Store and then further question that, even if it does, whether it counts that one part of a tech giant is paying the other. The answer would have to be that Apple is effectively forcing a 30% fee on its rivals.

Spotify also has made a list of five complaints, including how it claims Apple makes it difficult to communicate upgrade offers and empower customers to upgrade.

In short, Spotify is claiming that Apple treats customers too much as its own and only allows interaction through the App Store, which is effectively Apple's way of getting 30% of revenue. The Swedish streamer complains this means only savvy customers who can be bothered to go online through a computer, and avoid their iOS device, can upgrade and find out about new offers without Apple's oversight. 

Spotify is also angry at being barred from Siri-controlled devices such as the Home Pod, while Apple allows its own music service to run unfettered. There's a video which outlines the points that has gotten the Swedish streamer so annoyed, it has given up talking to Apple and lodged a formal complaint with the European Commission.

Tech giant Goliath vs European plucky start-up? It's hard to see how the European Commission is going to do anything other than support Spotify, if it decides there is a case to be answered.

So start up your engines -- my prediction is that we will have another anti-trust case which Apple will find hard to defend. The moment it started its own streaming service and was charging rivals 30% for downloads and barring Spotify from being on its voice-activated speakers, then there was always going to be a case to answer.

If I were a tech giant, the European Commission is the last place I would want to be pleading my case too right now.

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