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Spotify CEO Daniel Ek Rips Apple For ‘Bullying’ App Owners and ‘Hurting Consumers’

The music streaming exec is demanding "action" over the 30 percent fees Apple charges apps like Spotify.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek on Wednesday (Nov. 30) blasted Apple for “stifling innovation and hurting consumers,” publicly renewing his company’s longstanding grievance that the tech giant abuses its dominant position in the market for smartphone apps.

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In a series of tweets, the Spotify founder said Apple was “shameless in their bullying” of app developers and called on lawmakers in both the U.S. and the European Union to take “action” against a company that he said “doesn’t seem to care about the law or courts.”

“Over and over again @Apple gives itself every advantage while at the same time stifling innovation and hurting consumers,” Ek wrote. “Apple offers consumers the illusion of choice and give[s] developers the illusion of control.”

A spokeswoman for Apple did not immediately return a request for comment on Ek’s tweets.

Spotify has long been an outspoken critic of the rules Apple imposes on its app store — namely a 30% surcharge on most transactions made within the platform, and provisions that restrict how apps steer customers toward outside payment systems.

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Apple says tight rules for app developers are needed to protect users from payment fraud and privacy violations. But critics say the company — which currently controls more than half the U.S. smartphone market with the iPhone and iOS operating system — is merely exploiting its dominant position to extract more money. Those complaints are even stronger from Spotify, since it also directly competes with Apple Music for subscribers.

Google, which accounts for the vast majority of the rest of the market for smartphone apps, is facing similar criticism and litigation.

The arguments against Apple’s app policies won a powerful ally last week when new Twitter owner Elon Musk raised the issue amid his own messy dispute with the tech giant. After claiming Apple had pulled its advertising and had threatened to pull Twitter from its app store, the polarizing billionaire asked his 120 million followers if they were aware that Apple “puts a secret 30% tax on everything you buy.”

In Wednesday’s thread, Ek directly quoted Musk’s tweet, as well as others who have voiced similar criticism. Citing “bipartisan support and global interest,” he said that “momentum” was building for some kind of action against Apple.

“So how much longer will we look away from this threat to the future of the internet?” Ek wrote. “How many more consumers will be denied choice? There’s been a lot of talk. Talk is helpful but we need action.”

Apple is already facing a high-profile lawsuit, filed by Fortnite creator Epic Games, that claims the app store policies violate federal antitrust laws. A trial court issued a split ruling on the case last year, and the battle is currently pending before a federal appeals court.

Though not directly involved in the Epic case, Spotify filed its own complaint against Apple in 2019 with the European Commission, the EU’s regulatory enforcement watchdog. Last year, EU regulators released preliminary findings that Apple had likely broken the law, saying the company “deprives users of cheaper music streaming choices and distorts competition.”

Even bigger changes could be coming via new legislation. In Washington, D.C., a bipartisan trio of senators are pushing a bill called the Open App Markets Act, which would impose strict new rules on both Apple and Google’s app stores. And lawmakers in the EU have already passed a new statute called the Digital Markets Act, which will place a raft of new restrictions on how app stores are run.

Though it will take time for the new EU law to fully go into effect, it was aimed directly at complaints like the one Ek voiced Wednesday against Apple. In an interview with Wired last month, one of the law’s architects said he expected “significant” consequences: “If you have an iPhone, you should be able to download apps not just from the App Store but from other app stores or from the internet.”