5-point agenda: Europe’s struggle to rein in Big Tech | Popgen Tech


The European Union is on a mission to get US tech giants to stop avoiding taxes, stifling competition, profiting from news content without paying and serving as platforms for disinformation and hate.

The European Union is on a mission to get US tech giants to stop avoiding taxes, stifling competition, profiting from news content without paying and serving as platforms for disinformation and hate.

The European Commission announced Tuesday that online retail giant Amazon has agreed to make changes to its software to end two EU inquiries into its treatment of third-party sellers on its online marketplace.

The EU also warned Elon Musk this week that Twitter could be subject to sanctions under a future media law following the “worrying” suspension of several journalists from the messaging platform.

Here’s a summary of the tussle between Silicon Valley and Brussels.

– Save Competition –

The digital giants are often criticized for dominating markets by elbowing out rivals.

In July, the European Parliament passed the Digital Markets Act to limit the market dominance of Big Tech, with violations punishable by fines of up to 10 percent of a company’s annual global sales.

Brussels slapped more than eight billion euros in fines on Google alone for abusing its dominant market position.

In 2018, the company was fined 4.3 billion euros – the largest antitrust fine ever imposed by the EU – for abusing the dominant position of its Android mobile operating system to promote Google’s search engine.

Google lost its appeal against this decision in September 2022, although the fine was reduced to 4.1 billion euros.

The firm is also contesting a 2.4 billion euro fine from 2017 for abusing its power in online shopping and a separate 1.5 billion euro fine from 2019 for “abusive practices” in online advertising.

The EU has also gone after Apple, accusing it of blocking competitors from its contactless iPhone payment system, and Microsoft was fined 561 million euros in 2013 for forcing its Internet Explorer browser on Windows 7 users.

Facebook parent Meta has also come under scrutiny from the European Commission, which said earlier this month it suspected it was violating antitrust rules by linking to its classified ad service Facebook Marketplace.

– Tax –

The EU has had less success getting US tech companies to pay more taxes in Europe, where they are accused of funneling profits into low-tax economies such as Ireland and Luxembourg.

In one of the most notorious cases, the European Commission found in 2016 that Ireland had granted illegal tax benefits to Apple and ordered the company to pay 13 billion euros in back taxes.

But the EU’s General Court later overturned the ruling, saying there was no evidence the company had broken the rules.

The Commission also lost a similar case involving Amazon, which it ordered to repay 250 million euros in back taxes to Luxembourg.

In October 2021, after extensive lobbying by European countries, the G20 group of nations agreed on a minimum 15 percent corporate tax rate.

– Personal data –

Tech giants are often criticized for how they collect and use personal data.

The EU led the charge to rein them in with its 2018 General Data Protection Regulation, which has since become an international reference.

Companies must now ask for consent when collecting personal information and may no longer use data collected from multiple sources to profile users against their will.

Amazon was fined 746 million euros by Luxembourg in 2021 for disregarding the rules.

Meanwhile, Irish authorities have gone after Meta twice this year.

In September, they fined Instagram, a Meta subsidiary, 405 million euros for violating regulations on the handling of children’s data.

And in November, they fined Facebook 265 million euros ($275 million) over a massive data leak involving the details of more than half a billion users.

– Fake news and hate speech –

Social networks, especially Facebook and Twitter, are often accused of not tackling disinformation and hate speech.

In July, the European Parliament passed a Digital Services Act that forces major online companies to combat hate speech, disinformation and piracy or face fines of up to six percent of their global turnover. It will come into effect in 2023.

– Pay for news –

Google and other online platforms are also accused of making billions from news without sharing the revenue with those who collect it.

To tackle this, an EU law in 2019 created a form of copyright called “neighboring rights”, which allows print media to claim compensation for the use of their content.

France was the first country to implement the directive.

After initial resistance, Google and Facebook agreed to pay French media, including AFP, for articles shown in web searches.

That did not prevent the company from being fined half a billion euros by France’s competition authority in July 2021 for failing to negotiate “in good faith,” a ruling Google appealed.

Facebook has also agreed to pay for some French content.


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