‘This Is a New Phase’: Europe Shifts Tactics to Limit Tech’s Power

The momentum in the United States is set to grow. The Justice Department is expected to announce an antitrust case against Google in the coming weeks. The Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general are also probing Facebook, Apple and Amazon for potential anti-competitive behavior.

But the actions still lag those of Europe, where officials are coupling their new lawmaking efforts against Big Tech with more traditional tactics such as antitrust investigations. European Union officials are investigating whether Apple’s App Store policies are anti-competitive, and are preparing charges against Amazon for abusing its e-commerce dominance to box out smaller rivals. The European Union is also reviewing Google’s purchase of the wearables maker Fitbit, while Britain opened an inquiry in June into Facebook’s acquisition of Giphy, a GIF company.

Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon are closely monitoring Europe’s proposals. While the companies have publicly said they want to work with the region’s lawmakers and regulators, their lobbying groups have argued that Europe’s aggressive actions are partially an effort to protect homegrown industries.

“Popular tech services are increasingly being developed outside of the E.U.,” said Christian Borggreen, vice president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, an industry group in Brussels. “The E.U. should strive to become a leader in tech innovation, not just in tech regulation.”

Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google declined to comment.

For years, Europe set the standard in tech regulation — only to find that its efforts did not make much of a dent as the tech behemoths continued to grow.

Consider that the European Commission found Google guilty of antitrust violations three times between 2017 and 2019, resulting in fines of roughly 8.25 billion euros, or about $9.7 billion at current conversion rates. But the cases each took several years to complete, giving Google ample time to secure its dominance in online advertising, smartphone software and internet search. The monetary penalties, which are small for a company with more than $160 billion in annual revenues, remain tied up in court appeals.

Other legal efforts, such as Europe’s landmark privacy law called the General Data Protection Regulation, were aimed at many industries and were not just targeted at the tech companies. Since G.D.P.R.’s implementation in 2018, it has been faulted for lack of enforcement.


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