Well, not just Spotify. It’s fair to say that the bipartisan antitrust legislation launched yesterday by three US senators yesterday will also delight Epic Games, Spotify’s key partner in protesting about the way Apple runs its App Store. While the bill – the Open App Markets Act – names Google as its target too, the key provisions do seem laser-targeted at Apple.
You can read the full legislation here, and the announcement describing its aims here. “Two companies, Google and Apple, have gatekeeper control of the two dominant mobile operating systems and their app stores that allow them to exclusively dictate the terms of the app market, inhibiting competition and restricting consumer choice,” is how Marsha Blackburn, Richard Blumenthal and Amy Klobuchar made their case.
Among its provisions: app stores will be barred from requiring developers to use their own in-app payment systems; won’t be able to restrict developers from telling their users about other ways to pay (e.g. subscriptions directly on their websites); will have to allow users to install apps from other app stores other than their own; and will not be allowed to give their own apps an advantage in rankings or recommendation algorithms.
It’s pretty much everything Spotify and Epic Games have been lobbying for. No wonder the streaming service’s legal boss Horacio Gutierrez praised the senators for their “courage and resolve in holding Apple and other gatekeeper platforms accountable for their unfair and anti-competitive practices” after the legislation was announced yesterday.
What next? As ever with legislation in its early stages, intense lobbying behind the scenes, and more arguing publicly. Regulating app stores is a delicate affair too. Provisions that allow Epic Games to use its own in-app purchases system or Spotify to reroute iOS users to direct subscriptions could also be used by nefarious developers for scams. Opening up the operating systems may be good for competitions, but it could be a boon for malware makers too.
In short, whether you sympathise more with Apple or Spotify in their specific disputes, it’s clear that there are lots of potentially unintended consequences in this kind of legislation. That alone means the process should not be rushed, and it also depends on legislators capable of understanding the technology itself, and looking ahead at those possible knock-on effects.
In short: the legislation as it’s currently written is a win for Spotify, Epic Games and their fellow campaigners, but there is a long road to go before it (potentially) becomes law in the US.