Guide to European regulators’ war with the tech platforms

Regulators continue to turn the screw on U.S. tech platforms in Europe.

Last week, it was the U.K.’s Competition Markets and Authority regulator’s turn to take a shot at Facebook, Google and Amazon over their market dominance. The competition watchdog has launched an investigation into whether Google and Facebook have exploited the personal data they have collected and used for advertising purposes. In the same week, the CMA started an investigation into whether Amazon’s latest moves in the food-delivery market are anti-competitive.

Here’s a look at the latest developments in 2019:

Anti-competition law
Targets: Facebook and Google
Key date: On July 3, U.K. regulator the CMA launched an investigation into how Google and Facebook collect user data.
Purpose: The CMA will determine if the way Facebook and Google collect and store user data, to then share with advertisers, is an abuse of power. The CMA will also look at whether this gives them an unfair advantage over their 70% share of the £13 billion ($16 billion) U.K. digital ad market.
Winners: In theory, publishers could benefit from an increased share of ad revenue if there were to be any meaningful restrictions implemented on the platforms.

Target: Amazon
Key dates: On July 5, the CMA started investigating Amazon’s Deliveroo partnership on anti-competitive grounds. On May 15, Amazon became the largest investor in Deliveroo as part of a £451 million ($575 million) financing round.
Purpose: To investigate whether Amazon’s plans for food-delivery expansion give it an unfair monopoly in the U.K. The watchdog has ordered that Amazon pause any integration it may have begun with U.K. food-delivery service Deliveroo, in which the retail giant has invested millions.
Winners: Naturally, any kind of food-delivery service, like Uber Eats.

Target: Facebook
Key date: In February, German’s competition authority ruled that Facebook abused its dominant position in the German market to force people to hand over their personal data.
Purpose: The regulator ruled that Facebook had made using its service dependent on people sharing their data with it. The regulator wanted to curb Facebook’s ability to automatically collect and combine data without gaining proper user consent to do so. It also ruled Facebook needs user consent to merge information from Facebook accounts with user data from its other services Instagram and WhatsApp. Facebook is appealing the decision.

Target: Google
Key date: In March, the European Union hit Google with a €1.5 billion anti-trust ($1.7 billion) fine.
Purpose: EU antitrust enforcers ruled that Google had hindered rivals in online search advertising for a decade. Google allegedly prevented third parties using its AdSense ad service from displaying search ads from Google’s competitors.
Fine history: In 2018, Google was fined €4.3 billion ($4.8 billion) by EU regulators for its Android mobile operating system — the culmination of a three-year investigation. In 2017, Google was fined €2.4 billion ($2.7 billion) for hampering rivals of shopping comparison websites. Google has now been fined a total €8.2 billion ($9.2 billion) by the EU’s anti-trust regulators, led by Brussels’ anti-trust chief Margrethe Vestager.

European copyright law
Targets: Google News, YouTube, Facebook
Key date: March 26: The European Parliament agreed on new copyright law, updated to be more in sync with the digital era.
Purpose: Ostensibly, the Parliament wants to impose more responsibility on platforms for sharing content that’s funded by publishers and creators.
Winners: Publishers and YouTube content creators would benefit greatly from this. Publishers would get more leverage to negotiate license fees for displaying their content on services like Google News. Content creators would, in theory, get more rights as YouTube would be liable for hosting copyright content.
Anomaly: Google News no longer exists in Spain. It closed in 2014 after fierce lobbying from Spanish publishers prompted a new law which specified news aggregators must pay content creators to be able to display snippets of their news stories on Google News. However, the EU copyright law specifies that snippets of news stories can appear on platforms as long as they are kept short. The law has been passed by the European Parliament, but the 28 EU member countries get to choose if they want to implement it.

“This directive is an important step towards correcting a situation which has allowed a few companies to earn huge sums of money without properly remunerating the thousands of creatives and journalists whose work they depend on,” wrote German politician and EP member Alex Voss when the law was passed.

Data protection law

Target: Google
Key date: In January, French data protection authority CNIL fined Google €50 million ($57 million) for violating the General Data Protection Regulation.
Purpose: To make an example of Google’s approach to gaining user consent in order to send them personalized ads. CNIL ruled that Google deliberately made it confusing and difficult for users to find out how their data was being used, by hiding information six pages deep. Google is appealing the decision.

Target: Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Apple
Key dates: In March, the Irish data protection authority, which is the lead GDPR regulator for Google and Facebook, launched its first probe into Google following complaints from privacy activists. On Feb. 28, the Irish DPA revealed it had opened 15 investigations into Facebook and its two subsidiaries WhatsApp and Instagram. It also has launched probes into LinkedIn, Twitter and Apple. However, these latter investigations began in 2018.
Purpose: All cases cover large-scale data breaches to legal bases for data processing for the purposes of ad targeting. Or whether the platforms have been transparent enough in how they have informed users of how their data is used.

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