America Must Take the Lead in the Fight Against Tech Gatekeepers
As a Swedish entrepreneur, I’ve long admired the American marketplace, where principles like innovation, competition and initiative reign supreme. It’s home to some of the most successful companies around the world because of these factors. When I founded Spotify almost 17 years ago, I believed in many of these same principles. If you can build a better system and if you work hard enough and innovate like crazy, you might just have a real shot at changing an industry for the better – even one as long established as the music business.
But as any entrepreneur can tell you, building a business is full of twists and turns. While I expected some of these challenges, the one I didn’t anticipate is the ongoing fight for fair competition as the digital marketplace has taken shape.
Last year, Congress had an opportunity to address this very issue by passing the Open App Markets Act, a bill led by Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal and Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn, which aimed to rein in clear abuses by gatekeepers like Apple. Despite broad bipartisan support and overwhelming approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee, Congress did not take it up before the end of the year. Today I’m in Washington to urge the new Congress to take a leadership role and pass the Open App Markets Act to promote competition by providing basic checks on the anti-competitive behavior that’s harming both developers and consumers.
It’s not easy to decide to go head-to-head with Apple – a company that makes some of the world’s most beloved products. Yet, it’s a choice that we felt we had to make because put simply, Spotify and countless developers across the world want to be able to speak to our customers and compete fairly for their business. Apple prohibits competition by not allowing developers to discuss new products, features, and deals with their own users. For instance, Apple promotes deals for Apple Music to Spotify customers, but denies us the same privilege. What’s even more unbelievable, is that we can’t even tell our users the basics of how to sign up for a Spotify subscription or how to purchase an audiobook. This leaves customers without the ability to make informed choices about the services and pricing options available to them. And we aren’t the only ones feeling this impact. I talk to developers daily being disadvantaged by the small number of gatekeepers controlling the internet.
Left unchecked, any company doing business through an app store lives and dies at the mercy of whomever is the gatekeeper at the time. It’s like leasing retail space from one of the few landlords in town who can charge a huge rent, change any term of the lease at any moment’s notice, place its own competing store right next to yours, and then prohibit you from sharing any promotional signs or advertisements that may reveal cheaper prices to customers or any benefits that would enhance their experience in any other location.
It’s impossible to deny that the phone and tablet have become the most common gateways to the internet, and Apple played a major role in making this possible. But the internet was never built to be controlled by a small number of dominant players. Under this current system that enables gatekeepers to dictate their own self-serving terms, consumers often end up paying more. Additionally, any aspiring entrepreneur wanting to create a company not beholden to these arbitrary rules really doesn’t stand a chance.
While I am fortunate that Spotify has been successful despite Apple’s stranglehold, I know that many others aren’t so lucky. In Europe, the Digital Markets Act is a monumental step in the fight for fairness, entrepreneurship, and digital innovation. Other countries, including the UK, South Korea, and Japan, are also pursuing stricter regulations to curb the dominance of gatekeepers. But with no action here in the States, I worry that America risks falling behind, which will ultimately lead to severe consequences for innovation and consumers alike. This is especially troubling given that the United States has long played a leadership role on the global stage and has extolled the values of open competition I believe so deeply in.
This is why we’ve arrived at an inflection point with a clear choice: To fight for an open, competitive marketplace that fosters creativity and enables entrepreneurs to develop and promote their products, or to continue to allow a handful of companies to hold the keys to the internet and advantage themselves at the expense of others. I’m convinced that Congress passing the Open App Markets Act is the only real path to a fair digital future. Let us seize this pivotal moment to reshape the digital landscape, fostering a future of innovation, collaboration, and fair competition.