For Big Tech, a reckoning may be near for near-field communications.
To that end, Apple is facing more scrutiny centered on its payments ecosystem, and the tech underpinning that ecosystem.
As reported by Bloomberg on Friday (Dec. 4), Dutch antitrust regulators have been looking at the company – specifically into Apple’s Pay’s near-field communications (NFC) operability.
It should be noted that the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) did not explicitly name Apple in its announcement of an investigation into NFC. But the authority did state that “the software on some smartphones only allows the software developer’s own payment app to connect to NFC communication.”
NFC is the technology that enables the wireless transfer of data that in turn lets users make contactless payments, among other activities.
And that would seemingly be a nod toward Apple, which has tech in place that allows users of hardware such as the iPhone and the Apple Watch to make NFC payments only if they use Apple Pay. That, in turn, freezes out other enterprises whose apps are downloaded and used on those devices, and who want NFC payments functionality embedded in those devices. In terms of mechanics, Apple restricts access to the NFC chips themselves.
Per the Dutch regulators: They’ll seek to investigate “whether limiting the payment apps’ access to NFC communication reduces the users’ freedom of choice.” Should such restrictions and violations of consumer choice be illuminated, fines or other penalties may loom.
The latest salvo of regulatory scrutiny comes on top of other investigations/regulatory challenges that confront the company across a wider stage. As reported in September, the European Union may see new laws set in place that would make it mandatory to share NFC payments technology tied to iPhones and watches. Those new laws would require developers to open access to the NFC technology.
The EU, over the summer, opened an antitrust probe into Apple Pay. In that investigation, authorities are looking into Apple’s proprietary in-app purchase system (IAP), which limits the ability of developers to inform iPhone and iPad users of cheaper alternatives.
Apple, of course, is hardly alone in attracting the gaze of markets and competition authorities. Google is being probed by the EU, and has paid billions of dollars in fines over practices that allegedly use technology (such as its operating system) at the expense of smaller rivals, in search and other activities.
And in reference to payments, and the leverage that larger tech firms have over payments, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) announced an antitrust case against Google last month that examines practices tied to Google Pay. Specifically, the CCI is examining how Google Pay is promoted when an Android phone is set up at the initial point of use – and whether Google Play favors Google Pay.