Dutch regulator launches antitrust investigation into NFC payment apps

The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has opened an investigation into whether companies such as Apple are in breach of competition rules if they limit the access payments apps have to a smartphone’s NFC chip and restrict a user’s choice of contactless in-store payment method on that device.

Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) logo

“The software on some smartphones only allows the software developer’s own payment app to connect to NFC communication,” ACM states.

“This problem may stifle innovation with respect to payment apps, and it reduces the freedom of choice for consumers and businesses.”

“ACM will investigate whether limiting the payment apps’ access to NFC communication reduces the users’ freedom of choice,” the regulatory body continues.

“ACM may also come to the conclusion that these rules have not been violated. In that case, the investigation will be terminated. If ACM does establish a violation, it may result in a penalty, such as a fine.”

The regulatory body does not name Apple or any other company in the announcement of its investigation, but the move follows the publication of its ‘Big Techs in the Dutch payment system’ study, in which it identifies the need for “Big Tech companies, such as Apple, Facebook, Amazon or Ant Group (Alibaba)” to “ensure that their platforms or devices are suitable for different providers of payment service”.

Users of an NFC-enabled iPhone and Apple Watch can currently only make in-store NFC payments via Apple Pay, with other payment apps prevented from accessing a device’s NFC chip.

The European Commission opened a formal antitrust investigation “to assess whether Apple’s conduct in connection with Apple Pay violates EU competition rules” in June 2020.

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