Apple and Google still on radar, says EU’s Vestager

EU regulators looked into Apple’s mobile payment service and found it was not market dominant but they could review it again if they receive formal complaints, Europe’s antitrust chief has said.

In an interview with Reuters, European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager also signalled that Google and Amazon would remain very much on her radar until the end of her mandate late next year.

Google has been fined a total of €6.8bn in the last 18 months for breaching EU rules.

Apple’s mobile payment service Apple Pay, launched in October 2014, is available in 10 EU countries including France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and Denmark. Critics say that an NFC chip embedded in the Apple iPhone means that Apple Pay is automatically selected when an iPhone user pays for goods and services, barring rival payment methods.

The Danish Competition Authority is investigating the issue, which was brought to its attention by the Danish Consumer Council.

Ms Vestager, who has earned a reputation for taking a tough line against companies that breach EU rules and can impose fines of up to 10% of a company’s global turnover, said she did a preliminary review some time back.

“When we were looking at it … (at) first glance, we couldn’t see Apple being dominant. That doesn’t exclude in the future that we will have a second look.

But when we looked some time ago, we didn’t find … the necessary (evidence) to start a case,” she said. “Obviously if we had official complaints, we would take that seriously because the entire payment market is a very important payment market,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Apple declined to comment.

Separately, Ms Vestager is reviewing whether Amazon is using merchants’ data illegally to make its own brand products similar to retailers’. She said she has been inundated with data, key to building a case against the US online retailer.

“Now we have received not piles, but mountains of data and for us it is a priority to go through that, both from Amazon themselves but also coming in from some of the businesses that they actually host,” she said.

For us, of course, it is important to get the starting point right because, if we open a case, in order to be able to proceed with some speed, well then, of course, we need to get some of the basics right and we are in the process of doing that.

Ms Vestager recently asked Google’s rivals if the internet search engine unfairly demotes local search competitors, raising the possibility of a fourth antitrust case against the company.

“Now we ask questions when it comes to local search.

“This means a lot to many people because you use your phone or your tablet you are looking for a place to eat, opening hours, where to go, museums, doctors, all kinds of stuff, and therefore, of course, it is a very important area, a very important service,” she said.

“It could be (the fourth case against Google) but of course we start asking questions without prejudice,” Ms Vestager said.

Meanwhile, Qualcomm said it won a ruling in China against Apple that bans the sale of some iPhone models in that country. The Fuzhou Intermediate People’s Court ruled Apple is infringing two Qualcomm patents and issued injunctions against the sale of the iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X. the chipmaker chipmaker said. The ruling is part of a worldwide dispute between the two US companies over licensing fees that the chipmaker says underpins all modern phone systems. Apple has argued that its former supplier unfairly leverages its position as the biggest supplier of chips for smartphones to force payment of the fees.

Qualcomm has countered that Apple is using its intellectual property without paying for it and the legal cases are aimed at forcing it to lower licensing charges. Apple shares fell 2.5% at one stage, while Qualcomm rose almost 3%.

“Qualcomm’s effort to ban our products is another desperate move by a company whose illegal practices are under investigation by regulators around the world,” Apple said in a statement. “

All iPhone models remain available for our customers in China,” it said.

The patents are related to adjusting and reformatting the size and appearance of photographs and managing applications using a touchscreen, Qualcomm said.

They are just two of a number of patents Qualcomm is using against Apple in disputes in several countries. China is the world’s largest market for smartphones and is home to the manufacturers of the iPhone for Apple.

The ruling doesn’t include the most recent iPhone models.

Reuters. Additional reporting Bloomberg

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