The European Commission is launching antitrust action against Apple with accusations that Apple has locked app developers out of the hardware that powers contactless payments to limit competition with Apple Pay.
In a preliminary statement about the complaint, the commission said Apple has stopped competing iOS mobile wallets from accessing the near-field communication (NFC) technology commonly used for tap-and-go payments.
“Mobile payments play a rapidly growing role in our digital economy,” commission executive vice-president Margrethe Vestager 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.”
If Apple is found to have abused its dominant market position in breach of Europe’s antitrust laws, it faces fines up to 10 per cent of its global revenues unless it can reach a settlement with the commission.
The case could also see Apple forced to allow the contactless payments from rivals like Google Pay and Samsung Pay onto its devices.
In a statement, Apple denied any anti-competitive behaviour.
“Apple Pay is only 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,” it said.
“We will continue to engage with the commission to ensure European consumers have access to the payment option of their choice in a safe and secure environment.”
NFC is a set of standards for communicating between devices over a few centimetres and became a mainstay of consumer transactions in 2011 when Mastercard introduced its PayPass system.
Apple began offering NFC for Apple Pay in 2014. Android devices followed suit a year later with Google Pay.
Developers were first given some access to the NFC frameworks with the release of iOS 11 in 2017.
European regulators are looking closely at the way big tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Apple treat their competitors on in-built platforms.
Just last year Europe took aim at supposed anti-competitive practices Apple has used to limit the reach of non-Apple music streaming services on its devices, including mandatory use of Apple’s in-app purchases system (that commands a 30 per cent tax) and anti-steering provisions that limit developer’s ability to tell customers about alternate payment methods.
The mandatory use of Apple’s in-app purchase system formed the basis of a 2020 complaint as well.
Last year, Google also became the target of an antitrust investigation for its immensely powerful role in the ad-tech industry as it collects data, sells advertising space, and acts as an intermediary – controlling nearly every aspect of the supply chain.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is also looking at reining in Google’s ad-tech dominance.