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Apple abused its dominant position in mobile payments, says EU

The European Commission told consumer tech giant Apple that it has formed a ‘preliminary view’ that it abused its dominant position in markets for mobile wallets on iOS devices.

The claim is that Apple limited access to the NFC hardware onboard iPhones to third party app developers, only allowing its own Apple Pay to do so. This restricted competition in the mobile wallet app space and will lead to less innovation and less choice for consumers, it says.

If this ‘view’ is ‘confirmed’ (such is the usual jarring legalese inherent in these sorts of statements) it would apparently infringe Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which is designed to prohibit the abuse of a dominant market position. This ‘Statement of Objections’ is a formal step in an investigation into suspected violations of EU antitrust rules.

“Mobile payments play a rapidly growing role in our digital economy,” said Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said It is important for the integration of European Payments markets that consumers benefit from a competitive and innovative payments landscape. We have indications that Apple restricted third-party access to key technology necessary to develop rival mobile wallet solutions on Apple’s devices. In our Statement of Objections, we preliminarily found that Apple may have restricted competition, to the benefit of its own solution Apple Pay. If confirmed, such a conduct would be illegal under our competition rules.”

There is currently lots of active law making targeted directly or indirectly at Apple emanating all around the world, concerning anything from how much control it has on its app store to the shape of iPhone chargers.

And it’s not just Apple the lawyers are gunning for of course. There was plenty of litigation being generated against technology firms from the EU anyway, but the announcement of the Digital Markets Act in March certainly came off as a statement of intent in terms of taking big tech to task where it perceives anti-competitive or bad for the consumer behaviour.

It’s not a simple issue – on the one hand it’s easy to argue big tech controls an awful lot of not just our digital lives but society in general at this point, and its painfully naive to expect firms to look out for anything other than their bottom line. On the other hand, how worthwhile the crusade is may depend on how heavy handed some the legislation gets and how much its already overlapping with established law. In any case, it does indeed seem like we are entering a era where the EU is going to be ratcheting up the pressure it puts on big tech firms on multiple fronts, for better or worse.

 

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