The EU Wants To Be the Top Dog on Regulating Big Tech Companies

December 17, 2020

It’s all over the news and it’s a BFD, so here is The Scroll’s primer on the latest developments in Big Tech regulation in the EU.  We need to be informed on this stuff, but that doesn’t mean you should pretend it’s interesting – grab a big cup of coffee and dive in.  Here’s what’s up:

The European Commission is going after the Big Tech companies.
The European Commission introduced two proposed pieces of legislation which collectively would remake the tech landscape by requiring the Big Tech companies including Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon to adhere to strict new rules on how they operate.

Here is a rundown of the major changes: 

Right now, app search results in the App Store, for example, often display apps created or supported by Apple at the top of the results.  That would all change under the new regime, giving non-Apple and smaller app developers a level playing field of being discovered by search.

In the App Store, the majority of apps are actually discovered in this way, by search, even giving rise to the new field of App Store Optimization, or ASO, similar to SEO.

Hey, I don’t want that app
You get a shiny new phone, and its preloaded with a bunch of apps.  Apple and Google and the other big boys will have to allow users to uninstall apps that have originally come with their phones under the new regs.  Also, the App Store and Google Play would have to be a lot more open with performance metrics on their respective platforms for app developers – these are generally considered pretty murky by most app developers and companies right now.

Regulation without fines is like gums without teeth
These new rules have teeth.  Failure to comply could result in fines as high as 10% of the companies’ worldwide annual revenue.  And if that doesn’t cut the mustard, then the rules give the regulators the power to divest…aka break ‘em up.

Hold on, there’s more
What we covered up above is the Digital Marketing Act.  The regulators across the pond also presented a second piece of legislation: the Digital Services Act.

This one is designed to address questionable online content by requiring platforms to remove offensive content more quickly, in essence. You don’t have to look any further than all of the controversial content on Facebook and Twitter this election season to understand the kind of content the regulators are targeting.  Of course, there will be mondo fines for not following the rules.

But keep in mind, the regulations presented by the Commission are the equivalent of bills stateside, ie. proposed regulation.  It could take years for them to be passed into actual law.  And by then, who knows what the final rules look like. 

The famous and perhaps trite expression applies well here – “laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.”  Credits for that quote go to…you guessed it, Otto von Bismarck.

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