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MasterCard stings PayPal with payment fee hike

Secrecy comes at a price

PayPal, Google Wallet and other online payment systems face higher transaction fees from MasterCard in retaliation for their refusal to share data on what people are spending. Visa is likely to follow suit.

The amount that PayPal has to pay MasterCard for every transaction will go up as the latter introduces new charges for intermediated payment processors. This change is on the grounds that such processors don't share transaction details, which the card giants would love to get hold of as it can be used to research buying patterns and the like.

Companies such as PayPal allow payments between users, so the party (perhaps a merchant) receiving the money doesn't need to be registered with the credit-card company. PayPal collects the dosh from the payer's card, and deducts a processing fee before passing the cash on to the receiving party. MasterCard would prefer the receiver to be registered directly so will apply the new fee from June to any payment that is staged in this way.

The fee will only apply within the US, initially at least, and Visa hasn't said it will follow suit. But Reuters tells us that Visa's CEO described the new fee as "totally appropriate", and it is already impacting PayPal's owner eBay according to financial blogger Tom Noyes.

PayPal exploded in use because registering to receive credit-card payments was a tortuous process best left to large retailers. But companies such as Square and Sailpay have simplified that process enormously and MasterCard clearly feels the PayPal's raison d'etre has been largely eliminated - so the time has come for the killer punch.

Individuals selling stuff on eBay might still need PayPal or similar, the argument goes, but everyone else should sign up with one of the numerous online payment schemes popping up around the world and share the purchasing data with the credit-card companies like they're supposed to.

It's also bad news for Google Wallet, the NFC pay-by-bonk platform which has been forced to become a staged wallet because the card providers won't create instances of their cards to fit in Google's on-handset secure storage. Google Wallet is quite capable of failing, though, without that additional cost (though it could provide a useful scapegoat when failure arrives).

There are advantages to going direct - customers get the free insurance and fraud protection which come with using most credit cards (and don't apply to transactions processed through a third-party wallet), but most will see this as an embedded duopoly using its market power to undermine competitors. ®

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