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Regulators demand more info about tech payment systems

Query orders sent out to Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Paypal, and Square

A closeup photograph of an Indian man in a blue business suit, his collar just barely visible.
CFBP Director Rohit Chopra

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has issued a series of information-gathering orders on the business practices of major digital payments systems. Orders were issued to Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, PayPal, and Square, the bureau said in an announcement on Thursday morning. Chinese pay systems operated by WeChat and AliPay will also be studied but are not subject to any CFBP orders.

Issued as part of the CFPB’s investigative authority, the orders are not an indication of specific wrongdoing, but they suggest the CFPB will be taking a more active role in regulating tech companies’ consumer products in the future. In particular, they are meant to root out any data collection or anti-competitive conduct that may have not yet come to light.

The companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In a statement, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra framed the orders as an effort to ensure tech companies were not using the power of payment processing to exploit consumers or gain an anti-competitive advantage over smaller firms.

“Little is known publicly about how Big Tech companies will exploit their payments platforms,” Chopra said in a statement announcing the queries. “For example, will the operators engage in invasive financial surveillance and combine the data they collect on consumers with their geolocation and browsing data?... Will the payment platforms be truly neutral, or will they use their scale to extract rents from market participants?”

Previously an FTC commissioner, Chopra worked closely with current FTC Chair Lina Khan, and the new investigation is meant to harmonize with the FTC’s ongoing tech antitrust efforts.

The orders are already drawing applause from antitrust advocates, including the American Economic Liberties project. “The CFPB’s orders will force Big Tech to come clean on their surveillance, data collection, and payments systems,” the group said in a statement, “and provide regulators another important window in their sprawling empires.”