Can Spotify make Apple play fair, or has it poked a bear?


Spotify: Apple needs to play fair

In a new escalation to a fight that's been going on for years, Spotify this week asked the European Commission to investigate Apple's App Store practices. Specifically, the streaming service takes issue with a number of practices that give Apple an unfair advantage with Apple Music.

On a site called "Time to Play Fair," Spotify laid out a fairly compelling case for why Apple is abusing a monopoly position: 

  • Apple requires a fee of 30% from developers if using in-app purchases
  • Apple blocks developers from using third-party payment processors, or even mentioning other ways to pay online
  • Apple slows (or blocks) the development of features that would enable competing music apps on its platforms like Siri and HomePod
  • Apple applies rules on developers, then doesn't follow them itself

Given how competitive the music space is, the Spotify argument is a good one: we all benefit from fair competition, and Apple's practices do appear to harm consumers by limiting choice in a number of ways.

In particular, there's a pricing problem for Spotify because while it would need to pay 30% of its subscription fees to Apple, the same would not apply to Apple Music. If Apple were to lower prices of its service to $5.99, Spotify could not compete in a fair way: it would only make $4.20 while Apple would take the entire amount (and benefit from each Spotify subscriber as well).

Apple's reaction was... interesting. It struck out at many of the company's claims in an open letter of its own. What was surprising to me was that Apple argued its own side but didn't really provide any actual answers. Instead, it dodged the point or tried to redirect the blame. I wrote a paragraph-by-paragraph piece for subscribers (unlocked), breaking down why the Apple argument doesn't have any bite or even glosses over recent history.

It's worth noting that Spotify isn't exactly a darling of the industry itself: it finds itself inviting the ire of artists on a regular basis, and is accused of underpaying them. That may be true, but what's important is to separate that issue from this one: regardless of Spotify's history there, anti-competitive behavior hurts everyone, from developers to consumers and even those same artists, because it's forced to compete on an uneven playing field.  

Spotify's argument is fairly simple: 30% is a huge cut for developers, which have little choice in the matter, and it becomes a problem when Apple is competing with services in its own store. It's also miles away from what modern payment processors charge, around 1-3%, depending on the networkโ€”but developers are not allowed to use these or talk about them being available on their own websites for subscribers.

By raising the point, Spotify is giving developers who might usually be afraid of speaking out in fear of retribution a voice. What isn't clear is if Europe will listen, though Europe's antitrust commissioner did tweet about Spotify's request and attended an event to discuss the news

If just the last few days have been any indication, it's about to get ugly out there. If the case is taken up, we'll finally understand whether or not it's 'fair' according to the law for platforms to compete using their own tools to their advantage, which is happening across the industry from Amazon to Google.

๐ŸŽถ Spotify wants Apple to play fair [reCharged]

Get clicking

๐ŸŽฎ Google is expected to unveil a game streaming service this week

๐Ÿ˜ฑ IBM and others used photos from Flickr to train face algorithms

๐Ÿ“ถ Amazon pledges to keep Eero's data private as acquisition closes

๐ŸŽ Apple plans a special event on March 25 to launch streaming service


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A moment of reflection.

I really struggled to put anything down into words after my home country, New Zealand, was devastated by an act of terrorism this week. 49 people lost their lives to senseless violence, and nothing feels important in comparison.

I've felt numb and heartbroken since, but I couldn't leave it out of the newsletter either, because it's too important to ignore. I have something to say about the role of platforms and technology in what happened, but I just can't get there yet, nor is the time right.

This piece puts into words what I struggled to understand: how the whole thing was so finitely orchestrated for online virality, and that it's revealed a problem lurking behind the surface of memes, internet fame, and radicalization online.

Kevin Roose wrote about how the attack was orchestrated by, and for the internet, in a painful, but revealing piece about all of the tools the attacker used to ensure it was seen widely.

Elle Hunt wrote another incredible piece that may help understand why this matters so much to such a small country, and why it hurts so much for people from New Zealand.

To those affected, and those from New Zealand, I send aroha and my thoughts. All of us are New Zealanders, regardless of where you're from, where you are, or what anyone might say. Kia Kaha, stay strong. 

Other long reads

How Discord went mainstream [Taylor Lorenz]

Give me back my monolithic app [Craig Kerstiens] 

How a 50-year-old design came back to haunt the 737 Max [LA Times]

The planned obsolescence of old coders [Medium]


Firefox Send helps send files free, encrypted, anywhere

A privacy-focused alternative to file sharing services, this new thing from Firefox makes it easy to send 2.5GB files for free, and encrypts them along the way, as well as deleting them after a period of time you select.

I love the idea of this, particularly because it isn't by a big mega-corp, but by the folks behind Firefox. I've been using it for a few days, and it's genuinely easier than dealing with Dropbox or Drive because there's no messing about with logins or accounts.

๐ŸฆŠ Firefox Send


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