EU Wants to Open Up Apple Pay and iOS Browser Engines

Posted on April 28, 2022 by Laurent Giret in Apple, Mobile with 14 Comments

The European Union wants Apple to stop preventing rivals from accessing its mobile payment system or offering alternative browser engines on iOS devices. According to a report from the Financial Times, the EU is planning next week to accuse Apple of breaking EU law due to the company’s anti-competitive practices regarding Apple Pay.

The EU started investigating the Apple Pay situation two years ago and Apple could face fines worth up to 10% of the company’s global turnover, which is quite significant even for a massive company like Apple. What the EU wants Apple to do is to finally allow third parties to use the iPhone’s NFC technology to process payments.

Since the launch of Apple Pay back in 2014, Apple has always refused to open up its mobile payment solution to third parties, arguing that doing so would compromise the security and privacy of its customers. “The timing of the EU’s announcement of charges could still slip, people close to the investigation warned, but added that the commission was determined to act soon,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

The EU’s Digital Markets Act (not to be confused with the Digital Services Act), which is expected to take effect in 2024 could also force Apple to reconsider the way it forces third-party web browsers to use the company’s Webkit engine. As reported by The Register, an unpublished revised version of the DMA now explicitly addresses situations where platform holders prevent competing web browsers to use their own browser engines.

Here’s a passage of the revised DMA highlighted by The Register that should make Apple nervous:

When gatekeepers operate and impose browser engines, they are in a position to determine the functionality and standards that will apply not only to their own web browsers, but also to competing web browsers and, in turn, to web software applications.

Gatekeepers should therefore not use their position as undertakings providing core platform services to require their dependent business users to use any of those services provided by the gatekeeper itself as part of the provision of services or products by these business users.

The fact that all web browsers on iOS, including Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome, need to use Apple’s Webkit engine is quite problematic, and not only for competition reasons. WebKit vulnerabilities affect all iOS browsers, and a company like Apple which likes to bang the security drum over and over is actually preventing iPhone and iPad users to protect themselves by using third-party browsers with potentially more secure engines.

There’s still a long way to go until true browser competition becomes a reality on iOS, and Apple may well find new ways to delay what seems to be inevitable. Speaking to The Register, Alex Russell, partner program manager on Microsoft Edge wasn’t exactly hopeful. “Apple has spent enormous amounts to lobby on this, and they aren’t stupid. Everyone should expect them to continue to play games along the lines of what they tried in Denmark and South Korea.”

Tagged with , , ,

Join the discussion!


Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Comments (14)

14 responses to “EU Wants to Open Up Apple Pay and iOS Browser Engines”

  1. jdawgnoonan

    The browser situation on iOS to me is the biggest flaw in iOS for users, and most users do not even know it is a thing. I personally believe that iOS is a better operating system than Android, however, there are many things that I like better about Android, and they all involve freedom.

    • red.radar

      In the early days I understood the justification. Processors were limited and batteries were smaller. Enforcing a common browser for battery life makes sense. It also made sense because it ensured that no matter the web browser Apple could guarantee a good user experience from a hardware perspective. It also was a shrewd way of managing their BOM costs. If they forced people to use the more efficient web browser they could save money by putting smaller batteries in the device.

      Also, they knew Chrome was going to be a popular browser I wonder if they were worried about Google using its Search and Browser dominance to sabotage IOS experience and performance

      • jdawgnoonan

        I doubt that they were that worried about the Chrome engine when the iPhone first started allowing third party apps because at that time Chrome used Webkit. It wasn't until 2013 when Google forked Webkit and created Blink.

        • wright_is

          Even so, they had to use WebKit, and more importantly, Apple's version of WebKit that was given to Apps (it differs and is not as current as the version Safari gets) and it used Apple's JavaScript engine, not Google's V8 engine, as it was back then.

  2. red.radar

    How is this handled in Android? NFC can be attached to any wallet and there is an API to allow a default wallet app?

    I really like Apple Pay because its rather simple. Double tap a button on the watch and bring near the terminal and done. Using the Ipad or Iphone for traditional web commerce shoping, its a nice one click transaction where all the payment and shipping informaiton is filled out and saves the step of logging in, creating an account and then filling out a web form. And it seems to be more secure and private.

    I hope the EU doesn't screw it up for the rest of us.

    • wright_is

      A payment app, but, yes. I have 2 bank accounts (private and joint) and could download my banks' apps and set them up for payments, I could select a default and that would be used when the NFC was activated by a payment terminal, or I could open up the other bank's app manually and use that.

      With Apple Pay, I just have the 1 account set up within the Apple Wallet. It is simple to use, but it means that Apple gets my payment information, as well as my bank. The other thing is, on Android every bank can add their app to the store. On iOS, the banks have to do some sort of co-operation with Apple to be able to be in the wallet - not all of my accounts work with the Apple Wallet, as Apple only has co-operation agreements with a few banks.

      Given the banks have to comply with GDPR (they can't sell my information or share it with others) and they are bound by the even stricter banking laws, I'm happier to use the bank's app on Android, rather than Google Pay. The same applies on iOS, I'd be happier with just my bank getting the information, not Apple + my bank, but sharing with Apple is preferable to sharing with Google, if I have to have a 3rd party in the mix.

  3. Craig Hinners

    There’s a reason iOS users freely chose iOS despite its drastic imposition on one’s “freedom” to choose an HTML rendering engine. Here’s a hint for you, EU: the number of normal iOS users who care about (much less grasp) the subtle distinction between browser engine and browser chrome (small “c”) is precisely zee-eee-arr-oh. If they did and if they cared, they would have exercised their freedom to choose anything other than iOS.

    And thanks but no thanks, EU: I have no burning desire to deal with a multi-select screen every single time I pay for a gumball with Apple Pay so I can select my “third party payment processor”—what that even means or how it would benefit me remains a state secret, apparently, aside from some nebulous promise of “competition”. (Code for more money in the pockets of EU bankers, undoubtedly.)

    Then again, I wouldn’t expect anything less from the EU, the same bunch who single handedly causes humanity god knows how much collective lost productivity on a daily basis by forcing these asinine “OMG WE ARE USING COOKIES!!!!!11!!!11!!” popups on every single solitary website in existence, which are so convoluted that they’re beyond the comprehension of absolutely everyone.

    • Bart

      Diagree on your comment on browser choice. Sure, it is not about the HTML rendering engine, no one cares about that. But when software development gets stiffled, and as such User Experience, because Webkit might not implement features that are available on, say, your desktop browser, then browser choice becomes a problem.

      You don't choose a payment processor every transaction. But guess you knew that.

      As for the cookies, I prefer my data integrity over my boss making money. As for the convolution of the cookies, this is companies making your life hard, not the EU.

      As for all the changes the EU might force on Apple, the default Apple overlord settings will always be available. Use Webkit, Apple Pay, etc.

    • wright_is

      I disagree. And other browsers are already allowed, so there would be no browser ballot screen. It is purely about whether the engine behind the UI is the native one of the browser or it is hobbled by WebKit?

      If I use Firefox or Brave, for example, I would expect it to render the same as on other platforms or have the same level of features, but as it uses WebKit, it won't necessarily work the same.

      Also the "we use cookies" hasn't been legally relevant for 4 years. You have to allow the user to select which cookies to allow, or disable all (non-relevant) cookie. Cookies essential for navigation or recoding the users choice about what other cookies are allowed, for example, can be stored, but no 3rd party cookies are allowed, without consent.

      Also, the process for rejecting all cookies cannot be more complex or require more steps than accepting all cookies.

      I like this very much and generally disable all cookies for the majority of sites I visit, only sites I regularly use are allowed to store first party cookies.

      • dftf

        "Also the "we use cookies" hasn't been legally relevant for 4 years. You have to allow the user to select which cookies to allow, or disable all (non-relevant) cookie."

        I still see sites though that say "This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site we will assume your consent of these cookies."

        "Also, the process for rejecting all cookies cannot be more complex or require more steps than accepting all cookies."

        Again, it often is though. Some websites I visit have a "Consent" or "Do not consent". Others you have to click "More choices" then "Reject all". But others either make you turn-off each services individually, or only have a "Agree" with no other choice.

        "I like this very much and generally disable all cookies for the majority of sites I visit, only sites I regularly use are allowed to store first party cookies."

        I wonder though... why trust the websites to honour that they will not store or use third-party cookies via the consent-forms, when you could just block them at a browser level? All major browsers thesedays allow you to block "all 3rd-party cookies" in their settings. Why not use that?

        Oh, and I will add: the EU cookie law also says (this won't be the exact-wording, but something to the effect-of) websites have to grind to a halt when the cookie-consent banner is displayed, and not-allow use of the site until the user has made an explicit choice. Many sites I visit that do offer a "Allow all" or "Reject all" still ignore this part, and let you continue to use the site behind the consent-banner.

        • wright_is

          If it allows you to go further, without choosing, it has to assume rejected cookies, it is opt in.

    • spiderman2

      the same users that were screaming against MS abuse of dominant position, right?

  4. mattbg

    The EU needs to set up a tech support line for when these choices are made and it all goes pear-shaped.

    I'm all for choice where it makes sense, but the fact that something isn't possible means that someone can't be tricked or incentivized into doing something permanent (such as setting a malicious browser engine or payment front-end as default) that is against their best interests, and for most users that is a good thing.

    They do need to protect against abuse and stagnation / lack of innovation in these areas - Apple just like any company will abuse their position if they are sure that they cannot be challenged - but surely there's a better way?

    You can use Android if you want to go commando. That's a choice (and it's a big one!)

  5. Greg Green

    To me the parallels with this are cars, which is why it think these kinds of rulings are bad for consumers. If I buy a Ford I’m stuck with what they put in the entertainment system and everywhere else, whether I prefer it or not. I’m also restricted to what kind of replacements parts I can put in there without voiding the warranty. And if I don’t like it I have other car options, with probably none of them being perfect, but many being good enough.

    this ruling is like demanding that ford allow consumers to put Chevy engines in the ford and still keep the warranty valid. I think it’s all nonsense. Consumer have plenty of choices with phones and cars, let the market decide.