EU seeks to tame tech giants

By on 23/09/2020 | Updated on 04/02/2022
“There is a feeling from end users of these platforms that [the tech giants] are too big to care,” says EU commissioner Thierry Breton.

The European Union is seeking sweeping powers to tackle big tech companies’ dominance, in a bid to boost competition, increase transparency and protect the public from potential harms.

Measures being considered include forcing tech giants to break up or sell some of their European operations, and excluding them from the Single Market altogether, the Financial Times (FT) reported.

Regulators in Brussels are drawing up a blacklist of activities that technology companies would be required to stamp out – such as preventing users from switching platforms – and are proposing a sliding scale of penalties for non-compliance.

“There is a feeling from end users of these platforms that [the tech giants] are too big to care,” EU commissioner Thierry Breton, who is leading the overhaul of digital rules in the bloc, told the FT. “[Under] certain conditions we may have the power to impose structural separation.” However, he added that such powers, if granted, would only be used in extreme circumstances, such as when tech giants’ actions threaten the interests of consumers or smaller rivals.

Breton said the EU is also considering introducing a rating system that would allow the public to assess companies’ behaviour in areas such as tax compliance and the speed with which they take down illegal content, as well as powers to more easily scrutinise the way technology companies gather information on users.

Need to strike the right balance

Breton – who likened the power of the big tech platforms with that of the banks before the financial crisis – said the new system of oversight will be based on a collective effort between national governments and the EU. He told the FT the draft legislation will be ready by the end of the year, at which point it will go through the European Parliament and the European Council.

One EU official warned that Brussels will need to strike the right balance. “Going overboard can also backfire and you score an own goal,” the official told the FT. “On the other hand, too low an ambition will not address the concerns [about big tech].”

The news follows a public consultation on the EU’s forthcoming Digital Services Act, which will set new rules on platforms’ responsibilities in dealing with illegal content and disinformation online.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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