Apple to settle ‘tap-and-go’ payments inquiry with EU

Tech company willing to open mobile pay system to rivals in concessions that will help avoid antitrust fines from the bloc

Apple was still ironing out final technical details but a settlement was likely in the next few weeks.

Apple is to conclude a long-running European Union antitrust investigation into its mobile payments system and avoid a huge fine by making a series of concessions to allow rivals greater access to its contactless technology system.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, charged the iPhone-maker in 2022 with breaking competition law. Brussels regulators had argued the tech company was preventing competitors from accessing “tap-and-go” chips or near-field communication (NFC) to benefit its own Apple Pay system.

But three people familiar with the matter said that regulators had accepted a number of measures that Apple had committed to in January this year.

These include providing developers with free access to its NFC technology on iOS devices and without having to use Apple Pay or Apple Wallet. Brussels officials have been testing these measures, which Apple has offered to keep in place for a decade.

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Apple was still ironing out final technical details but a settlement was likely in the next few weeks, said the three people with knowledge of the matter.

The commission could still have issues with Apple’s commitments and the timing of a settlement could shift, the people said. The European Commission declined to comment.

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A deal should help ensure Apple avoids sanctions such as a fine of up to 10 per cent of the company’s total worldwide annual turnover. Under those conditions, Apple’s revenues of $383 billion (€357 billion) in 2023 would mean a fine of about $40 billion.

Apple declined to comment but pointed to an earlier statement. “Through our ongoing discussions with the European Commission, we have offered commitments to provide third-party developers in the European Economic Area with an option that will enable their users to make NFC contactless payments from within their iOS apps, separate from Apple Pay and Apple Wallet,” that statement said.

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“Apple Pay will continue to be a broadly available option, and over 3,000 issuing banks across all EEA countries will still be able to offer the unparalleled privacy and security of Apple Pay, as well as its great user experience.”

Apple Pay is used by hundreds of millions of iPhones and the conclusion of this long-running Brussels investigation comes at a time of particularly tense relationships between Apple and regulators.

Brussels recently fined the company a record €1.8 billion over anticompetitive practices related to music streaming services. Apple has appealed against the fine. The company is also set to be the first tech firm to be hit with fresh charges under the bloc’s tough Digital Markets Act, designed to enable competition in digital markets in the Continent. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024