Apple Fires Back at Spotify in App Spat, Charging That Spotify Is Trying to ‘Circumvent’ Rules

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Apple came out swinging against Spotify, releasing a letter Friday in which the tech giant said the streaming-music rival is seeking special treatment for its app that — as it currently exists — violates the terms of the iTunes App Store.

The letter, distributed to TechCrunch and other outlets, was sent by Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell to his counterpart at Spotify, Horacio Gutierrez. Apple’s response comes after Spotify publicized its displeasure over Apple’s rejection of the latest update to its app and alleging that Apple is trying to force the company to use Apple’s own billing system to sell subscriptions.

“We find it troubling that you are asking for exemptions to the rules we apply to all developers, and are publicly resorting to rumors and half-truths about our service,” Sewell said the letter, dated July 1. “Spotify’s app was again rejected for attempting to circumvent in-app purchase rules, and not, as you claim, because Spotify was simply seeking to communicate with its customers.”

The current Spotify app “as far as I can see” is in violation of Apple’s App Store requirements, Sewell said, a seemingly implicit threat that the app could get booted if it doesn’t come into compliance.

At the heart of the dispute: Apple’s policy that requires app publishers like Spotify to pay 30% of the fees they charge for subscriptions purchased through Apple directly. According to Sewell, Spotify’s app submission on May 26 had removed the in-app payment feature and replaced it with a feature “clearly intended to circumvent Apple’s in-app purchase rules.” On June 10, Spotify submitted another version of the app, which had a signup feature directing users to enter their email instead of going through the Apple billing system.

Apple confirmed the authenticity of the letter but declined to comment further.

“Our guidelines help competition, not hurt it,” Sewell wrote in the letter, saying that the company treats apps from streaming-music competitors like Google Play Music, Pandora, Tidal and Amazon Music in the same way.

Asked for comment, Spotify directed reporters to a tweet by Jonathan Prince, head of communications and public policy, with a picture of the app’s signup screen and the comment, “This is what @Apple wants you to believe violates their rules. No offer, no purchase, no link to anywhere at all.”

Spotify has reached out to members of Congress in its fight with Apple on the App Store issue, and the Sweden-based company has complained that Apple is abusing its power to engage in anticompetitive behavior.

In the letter, Sewell said Apple was “disappointed with the public attacks” lobbed by Spotify in standoff. He also noted that the company recently introduced a new revenue split for subscriptions purchased through Apple under which the company will take 15% of fees after one year of paid service.

According to Apple, Spotify’s app has been downloaded more than 160 million times since it first launched in 2009.