Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft have been accused of a series of violations, including not paying enough taxes
Europe is inexorably tightening the screws on Big Tech as a European Union court recently upheld a huge antitrust fine against Google and a parliamentary group voted last week to advance a law banning online behavior anti-competitive. New EU rules would also strengthen the power of national authorities to control acquisitions so that online behemoths cannot buy and kill competitors.
Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, sometimes known by the acronym Gafam, have been accused of a series of violations including not paying enough taxes, stifling competition, using media content others without proper compensation and threaten democracy by spreading false news. Europe is right to set serious limits for them and for others.
The latest developments are part of a long saga that began with the EU’s first online regulation approved in 2000, when Google was just two, Amazon was four, and Facebook wouldn’t be online for four. years.
The decades that followed included a “Wild West” for all in business, ethics and privacy that saw the Gafam group emerge victorious from the fray. As big tech companies grew, even they didn’t yet know the true power of what they had created. Clearly, entirely new levels of oversight were also needed.
Before the pandemic changed direction, online regulation was a centerpiece of the agenda of the new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, when she took office at the end of 2019. To underline the importance, her administration even created a new portfolio called Europe Fit for the Digital Age and gave Danish politician Margrethe Vestager the powers of an executive vice president.
The EU has already led the way in the modern internet age with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of 2018, which makes data protection a fundamental human right and sets the global standard for data protection. confidentiality. Its latest measures, the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and the Digital Services Act (DSA), govern the functioning of Big Tech much more.
Using the concept of monitoring and regulating the “gatekeepers” of the digital world, the laws cover services ranging from Uber and Amazon to the App Store and Facebook with rules that cover liability, competition, employment and liability. advertising.
The new legislation comes as previous legal sanctions find their way into the EU justice system. The EU cited Google for three antitrust violations and imposed fines of more than eight billion euros. In the first case, filed in 2010 and years of appeal proceedings, the court has now upheld a € 2.4 billion fine that penalizes Google for giving preference to its shopping service in the results of research.
But regulators want more than existing antitrust laws in their toolbox. An agreement reached by a group of members of the European Parliament last week paves the way for European lawmakers to vote on DMA next week. The package would then have to be ratified by EU member states to become law.
Andreas Schwab, a German politician and Member of the European Parliament leading negotiations on the approval of the DMA, said he was “satisfied that Parliament is sending a united message to the market that is” finished with unfair trading practices on digital markets “.
As usual, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen recently toured European parliaments, ending her tour of both the French National Assembly and the Senate last week.
She welcomed the neutral approach in terms of the content of the proposed DSA legislation and called on the European Parliament to “establish a golden standard”. She stressed the need to make Facebook more transparent and its data accessible to researchers, NGOs and journalists. She also cautioned against any exceptions for trade secrets, arguing that this would provide a loophole to deny access to the data.
Lawmakers have also been involved in lengthy negotiations over whether to ban targeted advertising, a major source of revenue for Google and Facebook. As part of a compromise last week, the European Parliament agreed not to ban the practice but to impose severe restrictions, including child protection and stricter transparency requirements.
But the nonprofit Wikipedia Foundation warns against taking a one-size-fits-all approach, noting that it “applauds the efforts of European policymakers to make content moderation more accountable and transparent” but calls for “a more responsible approach. nuanced ”.
“The Internet is not just about big tech platforms run by multinational companies. We call on lawmakers to protect and support community-run, nonprofit public interest projects like Wikipedia, ”he said in a statement.
And not all of the recent news from Europe has been bad for Big Tech. The UK Supreme Court last week blocked a UK $ 4.3 billion class action lawsuit against Google over allegations the company illegally tracked the personal information of millions of iPhone users.
Top judges have unanimously granted an appeal against the country’s first data privacy case, a ruling that calls into question a series of similar claims in the UK against other companies such as Facebook and TikTok.
Yet whatever support it gets, Big Tech must feel the constraints tightening. We surely hope so. Besides many benefits, the damage caused by an unfettered Internet is almost immeasurable.
Like the weather, the internet is now so vast and complex that it cannot be fully controlled, but the EU is to be applauded for its relentless determination to provide us with shelter from the worst storms.
Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli are seasoned international journalists based in Milan