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EU reportedly finally gets around to investigating Apple

A brisk two years after Swedish music streaming giant Spotify filed a complaint, the European Commission seems to have sprung into action.

Multiple media, including Reuters and the FT, are reporting that the EU is set (so not quite ready yet) to act on the Spotify complaint made almost exactly two years ago. At the time Apple offered its standard response about how great its App Store is and what a bargain the 30% tax it takes is. That seemed to be enough to appease the Commission’s tenacious trust-busters and everything went quiet.

But then games developer Epic started moaning about the same thing and last month brought the fight to the EC, thus forcing it to readdress a matter it had presumably considered closed. Once more it was unmoved but then both the US and UK took decisive action against Apple this week, exposing the bloc’s apathy and forcing it to at least pretend it was on the case. That, presumably, is why ‘sources’ are suddenly speaking to the media.

Two years isn’t bad for the EC, which likes to have a good, old think, ideally over many long lunches, before actually doing anything. While it’s possible that this move was catalysed by an especially inspirational tasting menu, it seems more likely that the EC was motivated by fear of being humiliated once more by the newly-emancipated, and thus more agile, UK. There’s still no official announcement from the EC, so these leaks smack of reputational damage limitation.

Assuming the reports are accurate, things are getting awkward for Apple. It can quite reasonably state that developers knew the rules when they partnered with it and we have some sympathy for its position on payment platforms, since allowing others would permit wholesale circumventing of its fees via the freemium model.

But the fact remains that developers have no alternative to Apple if they want to access the affluent iOS installed base, which effectively makes it a monopoly. The existence of Android doesn’t really mitigate that since few people use both platforms simultaneously, so they can’t actually choose. Apple will keep fighting and the most likely conclusion will probably be further concessions on the proportion of in-app spending gets taxed by the fruity gadget giant.

  • TechXLR8


4 comments

  1. Avatar StephB 05/03/2021 @ 2:07 pm

    all over good points, but my Gosh no surprise if you’re losing EU readers with this kind of anti-EU/brexit-is-great tone of this article!

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 05/03/2021 @ 3:12 pm

      They love it really

  2. Avatar Michael Ferris 08/03/2021 @ 11:21 am

    Doesn’t Google also charge 30% for Google Play purchases? Why is it only Apple that gets targeted on this point? I believe Google closed the loophole that allowed some apps to circumvent its payment system for in-app purchases, so it wouldn’t offer any effective competition even if people did use both platforms.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 08/03/2021 @ 11:26 am

      Good question. I believe it’s because the lobbying efforts from the likes of Epic and Spotify have focused on Apple. Strategically they may have calculated that Apple is more sensitive to potential reputational damage and thus more likely to compromise. Also Apple can be said to have more control over the whole ecosystem than Google does over Android.

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