EU and Apple end long-running ‘tap-and-go’ antitrust investigation

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Brussels has approved a series of measures proposed by Apple that give rivals of the iPhone maker access to its contactless payment system, avoiding a hefty fine for the company and ending a long-running antitrust investigation.

The US tech giant, in a concession to EU demands, will allow developers to incorporate its tap-and-go or near-field communication (NFC) technology to use Apple Pay and Apple Wallet as an “easy, secure and private way to pay and hand out passes”, it said on Thursday.

Apple will avoid a hefty fine and formal charges of breaking EU law. The move marks a brief truce between the two after a series of antitrust accusations from European regulators.

“Today’s decision makes Apple’s commitments binding,” Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s managing director in charge of enforcing competition rules, said on Thursday. “It opens up competition in this key sector by preventing Apple from excluding other mobile wallets from the iPhone ecosystem.”

She added that the tech group’s rivals would be able to “compete effectively” with Apple Pay for mobile payments using iPhone in stores, giving consumers “a wider choice of secure and innovative mobile wallets to choose from.”

Apple Pay is used on hundreds of millions of iPhones, and the end of the long-running investigation comes as regulators in the EU and US tighten scrutiny of the tech company’s corporate practices.

In 2022, Brussels accused Apple, after a two-year investigation, of breaking competition law by blocking competitors from accessing its technology in order to favour its own payments system.

Officials have been testing Apple’s concessions since January, which include giving developers free access to NFC technology on iOS devices without having to use Apple Wallet or Apple Pay. The Financial Times reported last month that the case was imminent.

EU sanctions for anti-competitive practices would include a fine of up to 10 percent of the group’s total global annual turnover. Apple’s revenue of $383 billion in 2023 would mean a fine of about $40 billion, although regulators rarely impose the maximum penalty and fines are typically reduced in court on appeal.

Apple recently became the first company to be fined under the EU’s Digital Markets Act, tough rules aimed at increasing consumer choice and opening up digital markets in Europe.

The company was recently hit with a record fine of €1.8 billion for anti-competitive practices related to its music streaming services. Apple took the EU to court and appealed the fine.