EU urged to investigate Apple Pay on competition concerns, Vestager says

Key Points
  • "We get many many concerns when it comes to Apple Pay for pure competition reasons," EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager said Thursday.
  • Vestager also said the EU is in the process of analyzing Apple's response to a Spotify antitrust complaint.
European Union Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager in Brussels on November 20, 2018.
JOHN THYS | AFP | Getty Images

LISBON, Portugal — Apple's digital wallet is stifling competition in the payments market, according to a high number of complaints sent to the EU's Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

"We get many, many concerns when it comes to Apple Pay for pure competition reasons," Vestager said in a press conference at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon, Portugal on Thursday.

"People see that it becomes increasingly difficult to compete in the market for easy payments." Apple Pay is now available in all EU member states and venture capital firm Loup Ventures estimates that 88% of its users are outside of the U.S. While it is struggling to compete with the likes of WeChat and Samsung Pay it currently has 383 million global users — more than mobile payment platforms like Google Pay and Amazon Pay.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, is also investigating an antitrust complaint into Apple from music streaming rival Spotify related to terms in the App Store. Vestager said the EU is in the process of analyzing Apple's response to the Spotify complaint.

Vestager has taken a tough stance regulating big U.S. tech companies, imposing more than $9.5 billion in antitrust fines against Google over the past two years. She did not comment on specifics of Google's acquisition of smartwatch maker FitBit but said "in general we have a concern if companies merge because of data."

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In July, the EU launched a formal antitrust investigation into Amazon over its "dual role" as both a merchant and a marketplace. Vestager confirmed the Commission is also "in the process of receiving information" about Facebook's Marketplace, which allows users to buy and sell products on the platform.

"It is quite a substantial set of questions we've been asking about Marketplace and how that works," she said.

Vestager added there is an EU-wide effort to examine the libra cryptocurrency project proposed by Facebook. She said regulators are looking into concerns over competition, money laundering, terrorism financing and financial stability.

"We have quite deep concerns about what would be the effect of libra if ever launched," she said.

In August 2016, Vestager ordered Apple to pay back 13 billion euros ($14.3 billion) in taxes to Ireland, saying the company had received "illegal" tax benefits over the course of two decades. Both the Irish government and Apple appealed the order, with CEO Tim Cook dubbing it "total political crap."

Apple previously said in a statement: "iPhone has completely transformed mobile payments by providing customers with a choice of how to pay including cash, credit card and debit card, as well using apps from the major banks and financial institutions. We believe that Apple Pay offers the best possible experience for our customers and the safest, most secure solution on the market. We're glad that thousands of banks around the world participate."