European watchdogs get tough on Big Tech


European regulators have launched a series of investigations into Big Tech. In the latest move, Meta’s Facebook and Instagram could face hefty fines under the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) due to concern they had not adequately addressed risks to children.

Here are some of the actions taken by European watchdogs against big technology companies:

EU

Microsoft expected to take additional steps to resolve an EU antitrust investigation into its chat and video app, Teams, a part of its Office product, even as it seemed likely to receive EU charges in the case, its president, Brad Smith, said on June 4.

The European commission launched an investigation into Microsoft’s tying of Office and Teams in 2023, after a 2020 complaint by Salesforce-owned Slack, a competing workspace messaging app.

The commission is also investigating whether Microsoft is preventing customers from relying on certain security software provided by its competitors, according to a document that regulators sent to at least one rival of the company in January, seen by Reuters.

EU antitrust regulators said in the same month that Microsoft’s investment of more than $10bn in ChatGPT maker OpenAI could be subject to EU merger rules, after a similar warning from Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in December.

OpenAI’s efforts to produce less factually false output from its ChatGPT chatbot were not enough to ensure full compliance with EU data rules, a task force at the bloc’s privacy watchdog said in May.

Meta Platforms added safety features to its misinformation tracking tool, CrowdTangle, for use during June’s European parliament elections in an attempt to allay EU concern that triggered an investigation in April into the effect of Meta’s decision to phase out the tool.

The commission said at the time that Facebook and Instagram had failed to tackle disinformation and deceptive advertising in the run-up to European parliament elections.

Facebook and Instagram were also being investigated for potential breaches of EU online content rules relating to child safety, which could lead to hefty fines, the commission said on May 16.

EU antitrust regulators had said on March 25 that Meta, Apple, and Alphabet’s Google would be investigated for potential breaches of the DMA.

In September 2023, the EU picked out 22 “gatekeeper” services run by Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta, Microsoft and TikTok-owner ByteDance, giving them six months to comply with the provisions of the DMA that were meant to make it easier for European users to move between competing services.

In April, EU antitrust regulators designated Apple’s operating system for iPads as a gatekeeper under the DMA.

Meta and TikTok both appealed against the gatekeeper status in November, with the latter losing a bid to suspend its designation in February. Apple said in April it would continue to constructively engage with the commission to comply with its tech rules.

Brussels fined Apple €1.84bn ($2bn) on March 4, the iPhone maker’s first EU antitrust penalty, after a 2019 complaint from Spotify. Apple said it would challenge the EU decision in court.

An adviser to Europe’s top court said on January 11 that the court should uphold Google’s EU antitrust fine of €2.42bn. The European commission fined the company in 2017 for using its own price comparison shopping service to gain an unfair advantage over smaller European rivals.

Britain

In October, Britain’s media regulator asked the CMA to investigate Amazon and Microsoft’s dominance of the UK cloud market, citing features that made it more difficult for businesses to switch or mix and match cloud providers. The CMA will complete its investigation by April 2025.

France

France’s competition watchdog said in March it had fined Google €250m for breaches linked to EU intellectual property rules in its relationship with media publishers.

The Wall Street Journal reported in September that the regulator had raided Nvidia’s local offices. The watchdog had disclosed the raid but did not name the company beyond saying it was in the “graphics cards sector”. Nvidia declined to comment.

Germany

Google has agreed to change its user data practices to end a German antitrust investigation aimed at curbing its data-driven market power, the German cartel office said in October. Google’s commitments would give users more choice on how their data was used across its platforms, the regulator said.

Italy

Italy’s antitrust regulator said on June 5 that it had fined Facebook and Meta €3.5m for what it described as unfair commercial practices.

The antitrust agency said in May 2023 that it had opened an investigation into Apple for alleged abuse of its dominant position in the apps market.

In April 2023, it took measures against Meta over an alleged abuse of its position in the country, in a probe involving the rights to music posted on the group’s platforms.

Netherlands

The Dutch privacy watchdog in April recommended that government organisations should stop using Facebook as long as it was unclear what happened with the personal data of users of the government’s Facebook pages.

The country’s competition regulator said in October it had rejected Apple’s objections against fines of €50m over a failure to comply with regulations aimed at limiting the dominant position of its App Store. Apple will appeal the decision in Dutch courts.

Spain

Spain’s data protection watchdog ordered in May a provisional suspension of two planned Meta products set to be deployed in the European parliament election on Instagram and Facebook.

A start-up group representing more than 700 start-ups in Spain issued a complaint about Microsoft’s cloud practices to the country’s antitrust regulator in May, citing several allegedly anticompetitive practices in recent years.

Reuters





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