The inception of tech companies is important in terms of how they drive both employment and innovation, but when a company gets too big for its britches, it needs to be reigned in. This ensures that the overall technological landscape remains productive and competitive without any one entity monopolizing everything.
While the US makes the headlines for its attempts to regulate big tech, Europe has been involved in it for quite a while with a combination of good and bad results thereby offering the world a set of dos and don’ts when it comes to the behemoth task of managing runaway tech companies.
For starters, the European Union has always been wary of Google; it has tackled the search engine giant with billion dollar fines on multiple occasions, such as the imposition of a $2.7 billion fine in 2017 for illegally directing users to its shopping website and a $5.1 billion fine for abusing its dominance in the smartphone market in 2018. Furthermore, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) law has made companies like Apple crackdown on privacy-unaware apps.
The EU has historically taken a very harsh stance against online companies in general, especially in terms of privacy and use of personal data. In fact, national authorities in Britain, Germany, France, and Ireland have devised their own probes to investigate privacy issues.
In spite of the magnitude of these regulatory actions, curbing the power of big tech companies remains as immense a task as ever, which merely emphasizes the mountainous task that the rest of the world, including the US, have before them.
According to Thomas Vinje, the lead lawyer for FairSearch, a Belgian lobbying group, it is the frustratingly slow pace of these investigations and ineffective enforcement of regulations that work against them.
“I don’t think it takes a lot of time and effort or detailed study to realize that the commission decisions have not really had any effect,” he said.
There are two major takeaways here: for one, squeezing money out of these tech companies by slapping fines on them hardly hurts them since they can easily pay them off, and for another, it is imperative that an investigation be wrapped up as quickly as possible or else the company will find ways to continue abusing its power or exploit the legal system.
One can always take a page from how Germany has decided to tackle Facebook. According to Vinje, German regulators realize that they are in “novel territory” and that instead of slapping fines, they focus on “requiring rather significant changes to Facebook’s conduct, that go to the heart of Facebook’s business model.”