It’s personal. Again.
Less than a year after being defeated in court in a € 13 billion case against Apple, the EU’s leading antitrust authority, Margrethe Vestager, is once again targeting the iPhone maker.
This time, Vestager is targeting one of CEO Tim Cook’s crown jewels: the Apple App Store.
In charges announced on Friday, the Danish politician accused the iPhone maker of abusing a dominant position to distort competition in the music streaming market, granting a quick victory to the main plaintiff in the case, Spotify, based in Sweden.
The case marks a comeback for Vestager, which has suffered a string of defeats in EU courts in some of its flagship cases against Big Tech, including Apple.
But he’s also set to rekindle a tense dynamic between the European police officer and Cook, which exploded into public acrimony in 2016 when she announced her decision against Apple in the tax case.
“It’s infuriating, it’s disappointing, it’s clear this is coming from a political place, it has no basis in fact or in law,” Cook said at the time. “This is total political shit.” (It had to be justified when the bloc’s top court overturned the tax ruling last year. Vestager’s office is appealing the ruling.)
This time around, Cook has avoided commenting publicly on the Commission’s new case. But amid a heated PR war between Apple and other tech companies, namely Facebook, over changes to its App Store, the latest accusations are expected to heat up again.
Indeed, Vestager’s new case targets a key source of revenue for Apple – how it charges app developers to be featured in its App Store, its second-most lucrative business after selling iPhones.
“Our preliminary finding is that Apple is a gatekeeper for iPhone and iPad users through the App Store,” Vestager said Friday at a press conference unveiling the accusations. “Apple is depriving users of cheaper music streaming choices and distorts the competition.”
The contested practices include charging high commission fees on every competitor’s transaction in the App Store and preventing competitors from informing customers of alternative subscription options.
Apple now has the option to respond to antitrust charges, which could lead to settlement negotiations or the Commission to advance a fine and an order to change practices.
But Vestager is not ready to rest with a single case.
Last year, the Commission simultaneously launched two more investigations into the Apple App Store – one involving e-books and audiobooks, the other into competing apps in games and iCloud. In addition, he opened an investigation into Apple Pay.
“This is not the last case we will have when it comes to the App Store,” Vestager told reporters on Friday.
For Apple, Spotify’s claim – one of Europe’s most successful streaming platforms, if not the only one – that it has been wronged by the policies of the App Store does not match the popularity of the service.
“At the heart of this matter is Spotify’s demand to be able to advertise alternative offers on their iOS application, a practice that no store in the world allows,” said an Apple spokesperson.
“Once again, they want all the benefits of the App Store, but they don’t think they have to pay anything for it. The Commission’s argument on behalf of Spotify is against competition loyal. “
Cook has so far avoided comments. For the moment.
Simon Van Dorpe contributed reporting.
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