Analysis

Spotify and Deezer lobby EC (again) over big-tech gatekeepers


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Spotify and Deezer’s CEOs have both signed a letter to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker calling for the EC to ensure they get a “level playing field” on platforms owned by large US technology companies including Apple and Amazon.

The pair – along with a group of European games companies – are calling for “clear and enforceable obligations that are a deterrent and prevent unfair businesses practices by platforms”.

“These obligations should include but go beyond mere transparency requirements, which alone will not ensure platforms act as gateways rather than become gatekeepers to the digital economy,” continued the letter, which at the time of writing has not yet been published in full – instead, the Financial Times reported on its contents.

Haven’t we been here before? We have. In May, Spotify and Deezer were among the companies signing another letter to the EC alleging that big internet platforms “can and do abuse their privileged position”. It referenced mobile operating systems, app stores and search engines becoming less “gateways” and more “gatekeepers” that hamper rivals to their own services (such as streaming music). Since then, smart speakers have also been added to the list.

Daniel Ek and Hans-Holger Albrecht aren’t just serial letter-signers for the sake of it: they’re putting pressure on the EC as it prepares to issue proposals on how the various platform owners deal with the developers and services that operate on them.

‘Access to platforms’ was one of the campaigning plans for the Digital Music Europe coalition that was recently co-founded by Spotify, Deezer, SoundCloud and other European companies, although when Music Ally interviewed its chairman, Spotify’s Olivia Regnier, she stressed that it was not the group’s sole focus.

It’s certainly a nervous time for a music-streaming service that doesn’t also sell smartphones and smart speakers, or run its own search engine.

The counter-argument that Apple, Amazon and Google will surely be making is that Spotify in particular has done pretty well so far out of their devices and app stores – although Apple’s Jimmy Iovine’s recent criticism of Spotify’s business model may only have inflamed the latter’s unrest about the App Store rev-share’s impact on its margins.

How the EC approaches all this may have a knock-on effect for regulation elsewhere. We – and doubtless Jean-Claude Juncker’s letterbox – will be hearing plenty more about this debate in 2018.

Stuart Dredge

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