Last month, Spotify released a two-minute, animated video outlining issues they have with anticompetitive practices used in Apple’s App Store. Spotify’s CEO, Daniel Ek, also blogged that Spotify plans to issue a complaint to the European Commission about Apple’s harmful business practices. His primary concern, as laid out in the post, was that Apple’s behavior was forcing Spotify to “artificially inflate the price of our Premium membership well above the price of Apple Music,” by forcing Spotify to pay arbitrary taxes other apps are not required to pay and jump through innumerable hoops.
This is not an isolated incident — recently, Apple has used similar tactics to suppress apps like “OurPact” and “Mobicip,” which try to help iPhone users cut down on screen time. Mobicip was told that they had 30 days to comply with App Store rules, or else they’d be removed from the App Store. However, they were not told specifically what they needed to change, and Apple did not respond to four messages Mobicip sent in order to remedy the problem over the next 27 days. Finally, they received a message that said Mobicip “used A.P.I’s in an unapproved manner which does not comply with guideline 2.5.1.” Mobicip reached out again asking what they needed to change but were told that they still did not comply with App Store rules and their app would be removed.
This came after Apple provided an update integrating features similar to the ones in Mobicip and OurPact into its software. But Apple’s features have fewer options than those offered by OurPact and other similar apps. OurPact allows users to set daily time limits on certain apps, which are actually enforced by preventing further use of the app. Apple has recently introduced a similar feature — however, once the time limit is reached, users only have the option to “Ignore Limit.”
None of this squares with Apple’s support of a competitive marketplace. Clearly, they have a vested interest in promoting the use of their software — it makes them money. Apple Music charges a fee for the use of their app, and they have been expanding into other subscription-based markets, developing a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu, a credit card-type payment service, a news service, and the preliminary plans for a video game service.
Apple and other tech companies are making moves to become absolute necessities in every aspect of our lives. Part of this goal has been capitalizing on trends that are already becoming popular and adopting them into their own platform. Alone, this isn’t a huge issue, but coupled with Apple’s behavior towards competitor apps like Spotify and Mobicip, it violates U.S. antitrust laws.
This conflict of interest is something we should strive to prevent, but so far the U.S. has been complacent in enforcing the relevant antitrust laws. The U.S. should be working to prevent this by investigating these companies. Apple has a clear incentive to prevent their competitors from succeeding, and has used their platform to that end, but the United States has neglected to do anything about this, and the responsibility has largely fallen on Europe.
Last year, the European Commission investigated whether Google suppressed competition by forcing phone manufacturers like Samsung and HTC to use Google search and store apps by default — they had, and the European Union fined them $5.1 billion. While this is a step in the right direction, Android devices clearly have a much more competitive marketplace than Apple devices. Android users can download alternative app stores if they want, while Apple users are restricted to the App Store. But Apple has not yet had to pay any fines for clearly preventing the development of a healthy electronic marketplace.
The U.S. has been very reluctant to impose restrictions on American tech companies, which has strengthened the tech companies’ resolve in these matters. The U.S. has not done anything to bring Apple, or other tech companies, to justice. This is especially scary when you consider Apple’s ambitious plans to enter many subscription-based marketplaces. It is not hard to imagine a world in which Apple users pay thousands of dollars for a new phone every so often, and on top of that, anywhere from 10 to hundreds of dollars per month for various Apple subscription-based services.
These moves by Apple are the first step in forcing competition out of their marketplace. On top of that, Amazon has created its own store brand that sells some of the most popular products on Amazon. This is Amazon’s first step in Apple’s direction. Tech companies that run their own marketplaces are creating antitrust issues that the U.S. goverment refuses to address.
Until the United States joins in the battle against these tech giants, they will continue to dominate more and more of our daily lives. Europe has and will continue to work to slow them down, but without the American support, tech companies will not stop stifling competition and further entrenching themselves as a ubiquitous part of our daily lives.
The consumer does not win when one company controls so much of their lives, regardless of the convenience it may bring.