Apple accused by Brussels of abusing its market power in mobile payments

Brussels regulators accused Apple of breaching EU competition law by abusing its dominant position in mobile payments to limit rivals’ access to contactless technology.

Antitrust investigators are concerned that the US tech group is preventing competitors from accessing “tap-and-go” or near-field communication (NFC) chips to benefit its own Apple Pay system, the European Commission said in a statement on Monday.

Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s executive vice president in charge of competition policy, said Brussels had “indications that Apple restricted third-party access to key technology needed to develop rival mobile wallet solutions on Apple devices.”

It added that the commission had “preliminarily found that Apple may have restricted competition, to the benefit of its own Apple Pay solution.”

If confirmed, “such conduct would be illegal under our competition rules,” Vestager said. The company could face fines worth up to 10 percent of global turnover if the charges are confirmed.

Research

The EU charge is the latest in a series of antitrust investigations opened against the tech giant in Brussels. Apple is also facing scrutiny for how it may be hurting rivals in the App Store by taking 30 percent of some subscription fees while denying some services the option to tell users there are other ways to update. This case was opened after music streaming service Spotify complained to the commission more than two years ago.

The new charges come after Brussels passed two landmark laws, including the Digital Markets Law, aimed at curbing the power of big tech groups.

In its preliminary findings in the latest case, Brussels said it believed Apple “enjoys significant market power in the mobile smart device market and a dominant position in mobile wallet markets.”

The research findings added: “Apple Pay is the only mobile wallet solution that can access the necessary NFC input on iOS. Apple does not make it available to developers of third-party mobile wallet applications. Touch-and-go NFC technology is built into Apple mobile devices for in-store payments.

Apple said: “We designed Apple Pay to provide an easy and secure way for users to digitally present their existing payment cards and for banks and other financial institutions to offer contactless payments for their customers. Apple Pay is just one of many options available to European consumers for making payments and has ensured equal access to NFC while setting industry-leading standards for privacy and security.

“We will continue to work with the commission to ensure that European consumers have access to the payment option of their choice in a safe and secure environment.”

Vestager said: “Mobile payments play a rapidly growing role in our digital economy. It is important for the integration of European payment markets that consumers benefit from a competitive and innovative payment landscape.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022

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