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How Much Of Europe's Regulatory Interest In Silicon Valley Is Just Jealousy Over Successful Foreign Companies?

from the real-or-imagined dept

A month ago, the EU brought down the antitrust hammer on Google -- with somewhat suspicious timing. As we noted, the move by EU regulators to claim that Google violated antitrust laws came the very same day that the EU's digital commissioner, Gunther Oettinger announced that the EU should more heavily regulate American internet companies to help European competitors get a leg up against them:
The European Union should regulate Internet platforms in a way that allows a new generation of European operators to overtake the dominant U.S. players, the bloc’s digital czar said, in an unusually blunt assessment of the risks that U.S. Web giants are viewed as posing to the continent’s industrial heartland.

Speaking at a major industrial fair in Hannover, Germany, the EU’s digital commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, said Europe’s online businesses were “dependent on a few non-EU players world-wide” because the region had “missed many opportunities” in the development of online platforms.

Mr. Oettinger spoke of the need to “replace today’s Web search engines, operating systems and social networks” without naming any companies.
And this week, the NY Times has an article about the increasing attention Facebook is getting from European regulators as well. In that case, it's not so much antitrust issues (though, those are raised on the side), but much more focused on data protection/data privacy issues.

To be clear, Facebook doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to handling privacy issues of its users. The company has a history of changing its privacy policies with little notice, sometimes in ways that appear to unilaterally shift the privacy settings on certain information. Frankly, much of this was a result of Facebook needing to shift from what was an almost entirely closed network to one that was much more public and open -- which was a key to the site becoming so successful. Frankly, while some of the criticism is well deserved, and Facebook's bull-in-a-china-shop approach to privacy in its earlier days was pretty startling, of late the company has appeared to be much better about things. And many of the earlier concerns proved to be almost entirely overblown by people misrepresenting things or taking things completely out of context.

That isn't to claim that Facebook is good for user privacy -- but the supposed fears about Facebook and privacy seem overblown. Yes, Facebook is super popular, but it's still a voluntary system that you can choose to use or not. If you really don't like the company, it's not hard to not use it and to block it from tracking you on various other sites. But that won't stop Europe from using fears over privacy as a wedge to attack the company:
Regulators in Europe, however, are especially focused on how the company collects and handles those users’ data. The region has some of the world’s toughest data protection rules, and policy makers from France, Germany and Belgium are investigating whether Facebook broke Europe’s laws after the company announced a new privacy policy this year.

If found to have breached the privacy rules, Facebook may face fines or demands that it change how the company handles people’s data, though the company says it complies with the region’s data protection laws.
Meanwhile, European regulators are also looking to regulate how Facebook's messaging systems work:
Yet lawmakers are now looking into whether Facebook’s messaging services should be regulated like those offered by traditional carriers. And industry executives say that as the social network starts to offer other services like phone calls through the company’s many smartphone applications, Facebook should play by the same rules that now apply to traditional mobile operators.
It will be worth watching closely to see what regulators come up with. It is, of course, entirely possible that these internet companies really are doing bad things that should require regulators to step in. But, to date, there's been a lot of puffed up smoke, rather than any actual fire. And it really seems like the interest from EU regulators has more to do with the fact that these companies are (1) big and successful and (2) American rather than European.

Filed Under: antitrust, eu, jealousy, policy, privacy, regulation, silicon valley
Companies: facebook, google


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 May 2015 @ 1:58pm

    The US tries to impose its will via trade agreements, so the EU counters via regulation. These actions have little to do with trade and business, and everything to do with the exercise of power and control.

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