On March 4, 2024, the Commission fined Apple €1.8 billion—its first ever antitrust fine imposed on Apple and third largest ever—for abusing its dominant position on the market for the distribution of music streaming apps to iPhone and iPad users (“iOS users”) through its App Store (“Decision”).[1]


On March 11, 2019, Spotify filed a complaint with the Commission, alleging that Apple had prevented music-streaming services from informing users of subscription options available outside of the App Store.  On March 5, 2020, an e-book/audiobook distributor submitted a separate complaint on the impact of App Store rules on competition in e-books/audiobooks.[2]  The Commission launched a formal investigation in June 2020 and issued a Statement of Objections (“SO”) in April 2021.  The SO was followed and replaced by a second, narrower SO in February 2023 focusing on so-called “anti-steering” practices.[3]

The infringement

The Commission found that Apple, over a period of close to 10 years, prevented app developers from informing iOS users of alternative cheaper music subscription services available outside of the App Store – a type of conduct referred to as “anti-steering”.  Specifically, Apple allegedly stopped app developers from:

  • Informing iOS users, within a developer’s app, of subscription offers available outside of the app, and of price differences of such options compared to in-app subscriptions;
  • Including in their apps links to developer websites to purchase alternative subscriptions;
  • Contacting newly acquired app users about alternative pricing options.

The Commission held that these restrictions constituted unfair trading conditions in breach of Article 102(a) TFEU, which prohibits “directly or indirectly imposing unfair purchase or selling prices or other unfair trading conditions.”  In particular, the Commission found that the steering provisions were “neither necessary nor proportionate for the protection of Apple’s commercial interests” and that they negatively affected the interests of iOS users by preventing them from making “informed and effective decisions on where and how to purchase music streaming subscriptions.[4]  The practices resulted in two main types of alleged harm:

  • Higher prices.  The Commission claims that Apple imposed higher commission fees on developers.  These fees were in turn “passed on to consumers in the form of higher subscription prices.”  The Commission concluded that this may have led consumers to “pay significantly higher prices for music streaming subscriptions;”
  • Degraded user experience.  The Commission also claims that Apple’s anti-steering practices led to a degraded user experience as consumers either had to engage in “a cumbersome search” or remained unaware of alternative subscription plans.[5]

The Decision does not cover allegations relating to Apple’s imposing of its in-app purchase payment technology on music streaming app developers (“IAP obligation”).  While the Commission originally investigated the IAP obligation in the context of its initial SO, in February 2023, the Commission clarified it would not take a position as to the legality of the IAP obligation and instead focus on the anti-steering practices.[6]

Fine and cease and desist order

The Commission’s c. €1.8 billion antitrust fine is its first imposed on Apple and third largest ever.[7]  The Commission has also ordered Apple to remove the anti-steering provisions and to refrain from adopting the same or similar practices in the future.  The Commission’s fine is composed of a basic amount of €40 million to which the Commission notably added a significant lump sum of nearly €1.8 billion to achieve a deterrent effect.[8]

The Commission’s justified its fine adjustment on the basis that a “significant part” of the harm caused by the infringement allegedly consisted of “non-monetary” harm that could not be adequately accounted for under a revenue-based approach.

The Decision’s fine is consistent with the Commission’s steady increase of the level of fines for abuse of dominance in recent years,[9] including through fine adjustments to achieve deterrence.  In Google (AdSense), for instance, the Commission adjusted the basic amount of its fine by adding a 1.5 deterrence multiplier.[10] Similarly, in Google (Shopping) the Commission applied a 1.3 deterrence multiplier.[11] 

Nonetheless, the Decision is exceptional in terms of the amount added for deterrence and its proportion in relation to the basic amount of the fine.[12]

Apple’s position

Apple contests the Commission’s findings and has announced that it will appeal the Decision:[13]

  • No consumer harm or anticompetitive conduct.  Apple disputes the existence of consumer harm or anticompetitive conduct in a “thriving” European music streaming market that has grown from 25 million subscribers in 2015 to 160 million in 2023, and within which it considers Spotify to be dominant with a 56% market share. 
  • An effort to prematurely enforce DMA rules.  Apple contends that the Decision is not grounded in competition law and its adoption just before (three days) the time limit for gatekeepers to comply with the Digital Markets Act (“DMA”) is an attempt to prematurely enforce the DMA.  In view of complying with its obligations under the DMA, Apple has announced changes to its steering practices.[14] These may not, however, have fully met the regulator’s expectations.  On March 25, 2024, the Commission launched a formal investigation into whether Apple’s revised steering rules complied with the DMA in light of various restrictions imposed on developers.[15]


The Decision and €1.8 billion fine showcase the Commission’s continued intent to impose sanctions commensurate to the fined undertaking’s size rather than mathematically related to the scope of the infringement alone.  Issues on appeal may include the degree to which competitive dynamics in a fast-growing downstream market (on which a complainant firm may be dominant) can inform a finding of abuse of a dominant position in an upstream market, as well as the appropriate interplay between antitrust and (pre-)DMA enforcement. 

[1]           Apple – App Store Practices (music streaming) (Case COMP/AT.40437), Commission decision of March 3, 2024; Commission Press Release IP/24/1161, “Commission fines Apple over €1.8 billion over abusive App store rules for music streaming providers,” March 4, 2024. Available online here.

[2]           Commission Press Release IP/20/1073, “Commission opens investigations into Apple’s App Store rules,” June 16, 2020. Available online here.

[3]           Commission Press Release, IP/23/1217, “Commission sends Statement of Objections to Apple clarifying concerns over App Store rules for music streaming providers,” February 28, 2023. Available online here.

[4]           Commission Press Release, supra no. 1, p. 1.

[5]           Ibid.

[6]           Commission Press Release, supra no. 3, p. 1. IAP-type obligations were the object of a separate investigation by the Dutch National Competition Authority (“ACM”).  The ACM held that requiring customers to pay for dating apps using the payment method imposed by Apple amounted to unfair trading conditions.  The ACM issued a cease and desist order coupled with a periodic penalty payment.  Apple amassed c € 50 million in fines before adhering to the order.  ACM Press Release, “ACM: Apple changes unfair conditions, allows alternative payments methods in dating apps,” June 11, 2022. Available online here.

[7]           In June 2017, the Commission fined Google €2.42 billion for allegedly abusing its market dominance as a search engine for allegedly giving an illegal advantage to its comparison shopping service (Google Search (Shopping) (Case AT.39740), Commission decision of June 27, 2017); in July 2018, the Commission fined €4.24 billion Google for allegedly imposing illegal restrictions on Android device manufacturers and mobile network operators to cement its dominant position in general internet search (Google (Android) (Case AT.40099), Commission decision of July 18, 2018).

[8]           A Commission official announced on March 26, 2024, that the basic amount of the fine was set at €40 million. Alex Bagley, “EU official lifts lid on landmark €1.8 billion fine against Apple,” Global Competition Review, March 26, 2024. Available online here.

[9]           Before 2004, such fines had never exceeded 1% of the turnover of the undertaking involved.  The level of fines has since increased: e.g., €4.34 billion in Google Android or c. 4.4% of Alphabet’s €98.13 billion turnover (Google (Android) (Case AT.40099), Commission decision of July 18, 2018); €2.42 billion in Google Shopping or c. 3% of Alphabet’s €81.6 billion turnover (Google (Shopping) (Case AT.39740), Commission decision of June 27, 2017); €1.49 billion in Google AdSense or c. 1.3% of Alphabet’s €115.97 billion turnover (Google (AdSense) (Case AT.40411), Commission decision of March 20, 2019); €1.06 billion in Intel (reduced to €376 million on appeal)or c. 4.15% of Intel’s 25.56 billion turnover in 2009 (Intel (Corporation) (Case AT.37990), Commission decision of September 22, 2023); €242 million in Qualcomm or c. 1.2% of Qualcomm’s €20.19 billion turnover (Qualcomm (Exclusivity payments) (Case AT.40220), Commission decision of January 24, 2018).

[10]         Google (AdSense) (Case AT.40411), Commission decision of March 20, 2019, para. 746.

[11]         Google (Shopping) (Case AT.39740), Commission decision of June 27, 2017, para. 752.

[12]         Guidelines on the method of setting fines imposed pursuant to Article 23(2)(a) of Regulation No 1/2003, OJ 2006 C 210/2, paras. 19-35.  The Commission calculates fines following a two-step approach.  First, it determines a “basic amount” by multiplying (x) the value of the fined undertaking’s sales of goods or services to which the infringement relates by (y) a gravity factor (by default, 30%) and the duration of the infringement in years.  The Commission may also add a sum of between 15-25% of the sales to which the infringement relates to achieve deterrence.  Second, the Commission may adjust the basic amount to account for mitigating or aggravating circumstances, and where achieving deterrence requires increasing fines for firms that have a particularly large turnover beyond the sales to which the infringement relates

[13]         Apple Statement, “The App Store, Spotify, and Europe’s thriving digital music market,” March 4, 2024. Available online here.

[14]         Apple Statement, “Update on apps distributed in the European Union,” March 12, 2024. Available online here.  On April 5, 2024, Apple announced further changes allowing music streaming apps to include a link to an external website with alternative ways to buy digital goods and services, Apple Support, “Distributing music streaming apps in the EEA that provide external purchase link.”  Available here.

[15]         The Commission is investigating inter alia restrictions on developers’ ability to “freely communicate and promote offers and directly conclude contracts, including by imposing various charges.”  Commission Press Release, IP/24/1689, “Commission opens non-compliance investigations against Alphabet, Apple and Meta,” March 25, 2024. Available online here.