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Spotify CEO sees EU’s Vestager tackling Apple with ‘real teeth’

Spotify Chief Executive Officer Daniel Ek says he sees EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager working on an antitrust order with “real teeth” to tackle Apple’s app store.

“I think that is what her and her team is focused on. Primarily making sure this has real teeth” and “real strength behind it,” Ek told Politico in an interview on Wednesday after meeting with Vestager for talks centered on how Spotify could help “move things forward” in the investigation.

The music-streaming service filed an antitrust complaint in 2019 targeting a range of behavior from Apple that Ek says has curbed the app’s potential growth.

The investigation is now one of the European Commission’s most advanced Big Tech antitrust probes, getting a statement of objections last year.

Ek would like to see it moving faster.

“These three years of being an entrepreneur, you’re impatient. You want things to happen — preferably yesterday,” he said.

Vestager may be feeling the pressure to take time to get the case right so it survives a court challenge and responds to smaller rivals’ criticism that antitrust orders don’t always go far enough to help them.

Sideloading the solution?

Ek warned that any order for Apple to change how it treats rival services needs to be meaningful.

“We are going to keep fighting for these not to be narrow,” he said. “We want a level playing field…in which companies are free to interact with its customers. We want platforms to have interoperability with payment methods…and then lastly, we want a platform which allows transparent and fair use of” application programming interface or “APIs across the board.”

“I get developers every single day that come to me and say, ‘look, this is grossly unfair, but for whatever reason, I’m afraid of speaking out for retaliation,’” Ek said. “I don’t even mind that they pre-install competitive services. I do not care as long as the consumer should have the right to opt into having other defaults” where services are set as the user’s preferred option.

One “perfectly fair” solution, Ek added, would be to allow his company to sideload — offering users the opportunity to download the Spotify app on Apple’s operating system from places other than Apple’s app store. Apple has long argued that sideloading would destroy the security of the iPhone.

Spotify’s proposal is covered by the EU’s recently adopted Digital Markets Act, which Big Tech platforms including Apple, will be brought into compliance with from early 2024.

Apple’s disputed practices include charging high commission fees on each transaction developers make via Apple’s app store and preventing rivals from informing customers of alternative subscription options. The Commission said last year that Apple’s devices and software form a closed ecosystem controlled by Apple where its app store is the sole gateway to iPhone or iPad users.

Apple had denied any wrongdoing and countered last year that Spotify’s success is hard to square with claims that it has been harmed by Apple’s app store policies.

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