Back in 2021, the European Commission issued antitrust charges against Apple after deciding that the company may be abusing its dominant position when it comes to music streaming apps. The commission sent the tech giant a Statement of Objections listing issues that it believes warrant further investigation. In it, the EU's executive body outlined its issues with Apple, namely making developers use its payment system and preventing them from telling subscribers about alternative (and often cheaper) payment options outside of iOS apps. Now, the commission has announced that its antitrust investigation will only touch upon the second issue, or the "anti-steering obligations" Apple imposes upon developers.
Its revised Statement of Objections drops its position regarding the legality of the company making developers use its in-app payment system. It's going all in on the anti-steering allegations instead, citing concerns that Apple's rule prevents developers from notifying users about more affordable subscription prices elsewhere.
The commission said these anti-steering obligations imposed upon developers are "unfair trading conditions" in breach of Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (‘TFEU'). It explained that the obligations are "neither necessary nor proportionate for the provision of the App Store on iPhones and iPad," that they're detrimental to Apple users who'll likely end up paying more, and that they negatively affect music streaming app developers "by limiting effective consumer choice."
This particular antitrust case was a result of the complaint Spotify filed against Apple in 2019, wherein it accused the tech giant of having discriminatory practices designed to suppress competitors to Apple Music. If the commission decides that Apple has indeed broken antitrust laws, then it could prohibit the conduct that's in breach of the rules — in this case, preventing developers from pointing users to external payment options — and could fine the company up to 10 percent of its annual turnover worldwide.
In a statement, Spotify welcomed the European Commission's announcement, noting that regulators are "sending a clear message that Apple must play fair and let competition work":
The European Commission has once again made it abundantly clear that consumers are the ultimate victims of Apple’s abusive and anticompetitive behavior—and putting a stop to it is a top priority. Apple’s anti-steering rules, which prohibit Spotify and other developers from telling consumers about deals or promotions through their own apps, mean that users are deprived of opportunities to save money and enjoy a higher quality service. That directly harms consumers. With each passing day, Apple continues to choke competition and smother innovation. The European Commission today is sending a clear message that Apple must play fair and let competition work. Momentum is on the side of consumers but they deserve final resolution—and soon.
Apple told The Wall Street Journal that it was pleased the scope of its case had been narrowed and that it hopes the commission "will end its pursuit of a complaint that has no merit."