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Apple Pay draws concern among regulators in EU

COMPETITION ISSUE:The competition commissioner said that questions were being asked, as a lot of concerns have been raised over Apple Pay operations

Reuters, LISBON

Apple Pay has attracted regulatory scrutiny as a result of several expressions of concern about the US tech giant’s mobile payment service, European Commission Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager said on Thursday.

Vestager’s comments come after an EU questionnaire showed that EU regulators had asked online merchants whether they had been told to use Apple Pay instead of competing services.

“We’ve been asking quite a number of questions because we get many, many concerns when it comes to Apple Pay for pure competition reasons,” Vestager said, without specifying who had expressed concern.

“People see it becomes increasingly difficult to compete in the market for easy payments,” she told a news briefing at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon.

In an interview last year, Vestager said that she might investigate Apple Pay if there were formal complaints.

At least one party has gone to the European Commission with its grievance, two people familiar with the matter told reporters.

Apple Pay, which was launched in 2014 and is available in more than 50 countries, including over 20 EU member states, marks Apple’s diversification from sales of devices such as iPhones and iPads.

Apple has previously said its payment system offers the safest solution in the market, as shown by the thousands of banks using it, and that iPhones offer users a choice of payment options, including credit cards, debit cards and bank apps.

Vestager, who is to retain the competition portfolio in the new commission due to start work on Dec. 1, has gained a reputation as a tough enforcer, especially against tech companies, handing out hefty fines and ordering them to change their practices.

In the next commission, she is to have an expanded mandate, which could see her take a more proactive role, including introducing legislation to govern the technology sector.

Separately, in response to questions about Google’s US$2.1 billion bid for smartwatch maker Fitbit Inc, Vestager said that EU merger watchdogs would take a close look at any deals driven by a desire to combine user data.

Officials “have concerns when companies merge because of data” and will examine their potential to hurt competition or trigger privacy problems, Vestager told a crowd at the Web Summit in Lisbon.

She would not be drawn into the specifics of Google’s proposed takeover.

Although Google is not a leader in smartwatches or fitness trackers, regulators in the US and elsewhere would likely have questions about what the company intends to do with the data Fitbit users have shared over the years, including health and location information.

Google has already been the target of three massive EU antitrust fines and Vestager has warned of possible new rules to rein in how companies collect and use information, calling tech giants “robot vacuum cleaners.”

She has been chosen for a second term as antitrust commissioner and would have added new powers as Europe’s technology policy chief.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg

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