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Consumer protection bureau probes Apple, Google, others over payment systems

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wants details on how tech companies are using personal payments data.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wants to know more about how tech giants are using people's financial information. On Thursday, the agency issued orders to collect information on consumer payment products offered by six large tech companies and their "underlying business practices."

The orders were issued to Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Square and PayPal, according to the CFPB. 

"Faster, friction-less, and cheaper payment systems offer significant potential benefits to consumers, workers, their families, and small businesses in the United States," CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said in a statement. "But payments businesses are network businesses and can gain tremendous scale and market power, potentially posing new risks and undermining fair competition."

The inquiry comes as tech companies face increased scrutiny from lawmakers and the Biden administration. Google and Facebook are already the target of antitrust complaints, and Amazon is facing questions from lawmakers about how it uses data from third-party sellers on its site. Republicans and Democrats have also introduced a string of legislation in recent months that aim to address the outsized influence tech giants have over American life. 

The CFPB is looking to gather information on a broad range of topics related to payment systems, including how consumer financial information may be shared across products and whether company policies could limit consumer choice. 

The tech companies didn't immediately respond to requests for comment, but the Electronic Transactions Association, which represents all the companies except Facebook, said in a statement that it and its members are "deeply committed to protecting consumer data and digital transactions."

ETA CEO Jodie Kelley added, "From encryption to tokenization, we devote enormous resources to keeping digital transactions secure. Part of keeping consumer data safe is protecting against fraud. The digital transactions industry works constantly to detect and address fraud. The industry uses aggregated data, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics to analyze digital transactions, looking for system-wide transactional changes as part of its global fraud detection efforts."

Kelley said the ETA will work with Chopra and the CFPB on this "important effort."