European Commission clamps down on Big Tech

There’s a new rulebook for digital competition in the European Union which directly affects at least 6 of the Big Tech firms who now have six months to fully comply to avoid the risk of being fined, and if found to be perpetually crossing the line, of ever bigger fines.

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Brussels, Belgium. 20th March 2019.EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager addresses a press conference on the concurrence case with Google online search advertising .

The Digital Markets Act (DMA) introduced stricter regulations within the European Union, designating Apple, Amazon, Google’s parent company Alphabet, Meta Platforms, ByteDance, and Microsoft as digital “gatekeepers.” This move prompted four investigations into Apple’s iMessage service and Microsoft’s Bing, Edge, and Advertising divisions, as these companies contested their eligibility under the new rules.

Companies providing “core platform services,” such as Google Search, are required to adhere to the DMA guidelines by March 2024. The DMA’s primary objective is to curb the potential abuse of market dominance by Big Tech firms and create a more conducive environment for smaller online players. Seven companies had already voluntarily informed the Commission that they met the gatekeeper criteria outlined in the law.

Core platform services encompass a broad spectrum of offerings, including search engines, social networks, app stores, messaging platforms, virtual assistants, web browsers, operating systems, and online intermediation services.

The new rulebook also requires platforms not to self-promote, or prioritise their articles over those of competitors.

These platforms must meet specific criteria, including having at least 45 million active monthly users in the EU, generating a turnover of at least €7.5 billion in the past three financial years or possessing a market capitalization of €75 billion. They are also required to serve as a “gateway” for businesses to reach end-users, exert a “significant impact” on the EU’s business landscape, and maintain a solid and enduring position in their respective markets. The Commission holds the authority to classify gatekeepers beyond these thresholds if they create bottlenecks in the digital economy.

As the European Union embarks on its most extensive overhaul of digital regulations to date, focusing on the principle of applying to the online world that which is forbidden offline, particularly in the realm of social media platforms.

The European Union had already initiated a ground-breaking set of digital regulations, known as the Digital Services Act (DSA), which officially went into effect Friday August 25th. These regulations are part of a comprehensive suite of tech-focused measures developed by the 27-nation bloc with the primary objective of ensuring online user safety and curbing the dissemination of harmful content that is either illegal or breaches a platform’s terms of service. Examples of such content include the promotion of genocide or anorexia. The DSA aims to safeguard fundamental rights of European citizens, including privacy and freedom of speech.

The implementation of the DSA is expected to have a profound impact on the digital experiences of Europeans when they use their smartphones or computers. Platforms such as Google, Facebook, TikTok, Amazon, X (formerly Twitter), and YouTube, could face substantial fines if they fail to comply with the regulations.

The DSA applies to a total of 19 platforms, encompassing eight social media platforms: Facebook, TikTok, X, formerly known as Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Snapchat. It also includes five major online marketplaces, namely Amazon, Booking.com, China’s Alibaba AliExpress, and Germany’s Zalando. Mobile app stores like Google Play and Apple’s App Store are within its scope, as well as the search engines of Google and Microsoft. Google Maps and Wikipedia are also subject to these new rules and the list could be increased to any digital services platform.

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