Historic European rules will finally test Big Tech regulation

Imagine an online world where what users want matters and where interoperability rules. Friends can choose the messaging app they like and chat seamlessly between apps. Any pre-installed app can be deleted on any device. Businesses could finally access their Facebook data, and smaller tech companies could be in a better position to compete with the giants. Big Tech could even face consequences for not preventing the theft of personal information.

While the US strives to pass legislation to protect internet consumers, in the EU these ideals could become reality in the next few years. EU lawmakers today passed landmark rules to curb the power of tech giants such as Alphabet Unit Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook (Meta) and Microsoft, establishing a task force to regulate the unfair business practices in Big Tech.

Amazon said the company plans to move with Europe’s “regulatory landscape” and review what the new legislation means for Amazon, its customers and partners. None of the other Big Tech companies mentioned immediately responded to a request for comment for this story.

It’s unclear just how difficult these new regulations – the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act – will be.

Critics say little will change, arguing that tech giants can easily afford massive fines for DMA violations or DSA violations. And at around 80 members, the DMA working group is too small to monitor compliance.

Once published in the Official Journal of the EU, “both acts will enter into force”, with the DMA applying after six months. The DSA works a little differently. It will apply to all digital service providers after 15 months or “from 1 January 2024, whichever is later”, but for “very large online platforms and very large online search engines”. , compliance will be imposed after only four months.

It’s possible that EU regulations – and any enforcement issues that may arise – will influence how the US approaches Big Tech regulation in the future, but this decision is likely to have an impact. over millions of global users, depending on how (or if) companies act to stay compliant.

Stricter rules for “guardians”

Known as the Digital Services Act package, the new rules were first proposed in 2020. The package aims to better protect people across the EU who use digital services both for business and for pleasure, with the aim of “creating a safer digital space where the fundamental rights of users are protected and establishing a level playing field for businesses.

It starts with the DMA taking back power from the so-called “gatekeepers,” Big Tech companies like Apple, Google, or Meta that seem to limit innovation by controlling how users shop and talk online.

The impact assessments of the two laws explain why there is a need to target very large online platforms for stricter enforcement to pave the way for smaller tech companies to further drive innovation and provide more choice to users.

Other objectives of the regulations include preventing the spread of misinformation and the sale or trade of illegal goods online.

However, not everyone is optimistic that EU regulations will work adequately to diminish Big Tech dominance. In a statement, European Consumer Organization Deputy Director General Ursula Pachl warned that if the DMA’s new task force “does not hire the experts it needs to monitor Big Tech’s practices on market, legislation could be stymied by ineffective enforcement”.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to defending civil liberties online, criticized the DSA in an email: “It gives too much power to government agencies to report and remove potentially illegal content and to uncover data on anonymous speakers”.

“We can expect a highly politicized co-regulatory enforcement model with an unclear role for government agencies, which could create real problems,” said Christoph Schmon, EFF’s director of international policy. “Respect for the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the inclusion of civil society groups and researchers will be crucial in ensuring that the DSA becomes a positive model for legislation outside the EU.”

In the past, Big Tech has proven to be good at circumventing tough-to-enforce laws. Last year, the US Federal Trade Commission reported that companies like Alphabet, Meta, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple have spent the last decade exploiting their wealth to dominate rivals and circumvent laws designed to increase competition. .

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