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EU launches two antitrust investigations into Apple practices

The facade of the downtown Brooklyn Apple store in New York.
(Kathy Willens / Associated Press)

European Union authorities Tuesday launched two antitrust investigations into Apple’s mobile app store and payment platform over concerns that the company’s practices distort competition, opening a new front in the EU’s battle against the dominance of big tech companies.

The EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, said it began a formal investigation of Apple Pay over allegations that the company refuses access to the payment system in some cases and limits access to the “tap and go” function on iPhones.

The commission opened a second investigation into the mobile App Store over concerns that Apple restricts developers from letting iPhone and iPad users know about ways to make purchases outside of apps. The investigation follows complaints from music-streaming service Spotify and an e-book distributor on the impact of the App Store’s rules on the competition.

EU Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager said, “It appears that Apple obtained a gatekeeper role when it comes to the distribution of apps and content to users of Apple’s popular devices.”

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It also appeared that Apple set conditions on how Apple Pay should be used in merchants’ apps and websites, she said.

“It is important that Apple’s measures do not deny consumers the benefits of new payment technologies,” Vestager added, noting that the coronavirus crisis has accelerated the growth in mobile payments as more people make online payments or “contactless” payments in stores.

The European Union is considering a law to reduce electronic waste by standardizing device chargers. Apple is pushing back, saying the industry is already moving toward common standards.

Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, has previously led antitrust investigations into other Silicon Valley giants including Google, which was hit with multibillion-dollar fines.

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Apple has been working to expand revenue in its services business to offset slowing growth from sales of iPhones and other hardware, but the EU investigation suggests that Apple’s growing dominance has made it a target for regulators.


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