EU Antitrust Regulators Narrow Apple Antitrust Probe, Zeroing in on Anti-Steering

Paul Sawers, reporting for TechCrunch:

The European Commission (EC) has confirmed a previously issued preliminary view that Apple’s so-called “anti-steering” practices, which prevent developers from informing users about alternative payment options, constitutes unfair trading practices.

However, in a refined Statement of Objections sent to Apple and published for the public today, the EC also said that it’s dropping an additional anti-trust charge against the tech giant around the issue of how Apple imposes its own in-app purchase (IAP) payment technology on music-streaming service providers. It wrote:

Today’s Statement of Objections clarifies that the Commission does no longer take a position as to the legality of the IAP obligation for the purposes of this antitrust investigation but rather focuses on the contractual restrictions that Apple imposed on app developers which prevent them from informing iPhone and iPad users of alternative music subscription options at lower prices outside of the app and to effectively choose those.

Sometimes the system works. I’ve thought all along that most of the EC’s probe against Apple was overreaching (the stuff about opening up IAP in particular), but Apple’s anti-steering provisions are wrong and either already are illegal or should be made illegal.

Joe Rossignol at MacRumors:

In a statement shared with MacRumors, an Apple spokesperson said the company is “pleased” that the Commission has narrowed its case:

Apple will continue to work with the European Commission to understand and respond to their concerns, all the while promoting competition and choice for European consumers. We’re pleased that the Commission has narrowed its case and is no longer challenging Apple’s right to collect a commission for digital goods and require the use of the In-App Payment systems users trust. The App Store has helped Spotify become the top music streaming service across Europe and we hope the European Commission will end its pursuit of a complaint that has no merit.

Spotify no longer allows customers to subscribe through its iPhone app. A message in the Premium tab of the app informs customers that they “can’t upgrade to Premium in the app” and says “we know, it’s not ideal.” The tab does not provide any information or external links related to subscribing on Spotify’s website.

The same has been true with Netflix’s app for years. Download it and it has a very obvious button to Sign In, but if you don’t already have a Netflix account, there’s almost no indication what to do to sign up. I wrote about this back in 2019 — you can tap the small “Help” button in the corner and call Netflix on the phone and someone will tell you the answer: that you need to sign up on Netflix’s website.

Putting the legality of Apple’s anti-steering rules aside, I think they make the company look spiteful and petty. They certainly aren’t in the interest of users. Apple is only really Apple when they put the user first. Apple makes gobs of money by selling hardware and software and services that provide people with the best experiences in the world. Anything like this that’s purely about making more money at the expense of the user experience is like a malignant tumor growing on the side of the true Apple. By going after these anti-steering provisions, the EC is doing Apple a favor, despite the fact that some of Apple’s executives can’t see it. The EC might excise that tumor for Apple.

Thursday, 2 March 2023