Apple has “abused its dominant position” to give Apple Pay an advantage over competitors on iPhones and other iOS devices, the European Commission said Monday. The EC informed Apple of its view in a Statement of Objections.
The preliminary finding “takes issue with the decision by Apple to prevent mobile wallets app developers from accessing the necessary hardware and software (‘NFC input’) on its devices, to the benefit of its own solution, Apple Pay,” the EC said. “We have indications that Apple restricted third-party access to key technology necessary to develop rival mobile wallet solutions on Apple’s devices,” said EC Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager.
“Tap and go” technology that uses near-field communication (NFC) “enables communication between a mobile phone and payments terminals in stores,” the EC noted. But “Apple Pay is the only mobile wallet solution that may access the necessary NFC input on iOS. Apple does not make it available to third-party app developers of mobile wallets,” the announcement said.
“By limiting access to a standard technology used for contactless payments with mobile devices in stores… Apple restricts competition in the mobile wallets market on iOS,” the EC said.
Apple claims restriction needed for security
In a statement, Apple said that “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.”
In an email to Ars, Apple public relations touted Apple Pay’s security and said Android devices that provide third-party applications access to NFC controllers are susceptible to attacks that can compromise customer card information. As evidence, Apple pointed to a Europol report issued in 2016.
In a press conference, Vestager said, “Our investigation to date did not reveal any evidence that would point to such a higher security risk. On the contrary, evidence on our file indicates that Apple’s conduct cannot be justified by security concerns,” according to Reuters.
Dispute over Apple’s market power
The EC said that “Apple enjoys significant market power in the market for smart mobile devices and a dominant position on mobile wallet markets.” Apple countered that Apple Pay is used in only a small fraction of transactions in Europe, though that includes cash and credit cards in addition to mobile wallets. Apple said that PayPal has been successful on iOS throughout Europe and that MobilePay in Denmark, Swish in Sweden, and Payconiq in Belgium are more popular than Apple Pay in those countries.
The EC’s Statement of Objections is a formal step that opens a proceeding to determine whether Apple violated European antitrust rules. Apple will be allowed to “examine the documents in the Commission’s investigation file, reply in writing, and request an oral hearing to present their comments on the case before representatives of the Commission and national competition authorities.”
“If confirmed, this conduct would infringe Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that prohibits the abuse of a dominant market position,” the EC said.
The EC opened its preliminary investigation in June 2020. The Statement of Objections sent today doesn’t cover all of the policies that were under investigation, the EU said:
Today’s Statement of Objections takes issue only with the access to NFC input by third-party developers of mobile wallets for payments in stores. It does not take issue with the online restrictions nor the alleged refusals of access to Apple Pay for specific products of rivals that the Commission announced that it had concerns when it opened the in-depth investigation into Apple’s practices regarding Apple Pay on 16 June 2020.