Taking on Tech Giants: New EU Legislation to Curb Power of Big Tech Draws Mixed Response

Written by | Sunday, December 20th, 2020

Big tech firms deemed online ‘gatekeepers’, such as Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok, could face fines of up to 10% of their annual revenues, under landmark EU draft legislation aimed at illegal content and unfair practices in the digital environment. The European Commission unveiled on Tuesday (15 December) a package of proposals that set out legal obligations for digital platforms, short of actual taxation. Only a day later, the EU executive also announced on a reform of the bloc’s cybersecurity rules – just days after the European Medicine Agency (EMA) was subjected to a cyberattack connected to its evaluation of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine. “The time of innocence is over. We know that we are a prime target,” said Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas. This new policy focuses on ten sectors deemed as ‘essential infrastructure’ – energy, transport, banking, financial market infrastructures, health, drinking water, wastewater, digital infrastructure, public administration and space.
Together, both EU’s planned new landmark legislations – Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act – could be the biggest threats ever posed to the dominance of digital giants. Today, after two decades of nearly unchecked growth, it’s nearly as difficult to imagine a future where the dominance and influence of Big Tech companies like Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google has been reined in. The digital technologies that have come out of these firms have changed society on a fundamental level, affecting everything from how we consume and pay for goods and services to who we interact with and how. When they emerged some 20 years ago, few could have imagined the ways they would change society. But now, outlining the ambitious plans, Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager and EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said the new rules will better protect consumers and their fundamental rights online “and will lead to fairer and more open digital markets for everyone.”
The two acts, the commissioners stressed, will prohibit unfair conditions imposed by online platforms and are at the core of the Commission’s ambition “to make this Europe’s Digital Decade.” In particular, according to Vestager, “The two proposals serve one purpose: to make sure that we, as users, have access to a wide choice of safe products and services online. And that businesses operating in Europe can freely and fairly compete online just as they do offline.” Reaction to the announcement has been mixed, with Tiemo Wölken, S&D negotiator on the DSA report in Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee, saying, “The DSA will give Europe a real digital constitution. Clear rules will ensure legal certainty for platforms and safeguard the fundamental rights of users. However, the proposal falls behind on some points.” The Greens/EFA Group, however, believe the plans “fall short of expectations”, with Dutch deputy Kim van Sparrentak, a member of the IMCO Committee, slamming the Commission that it “has failed to limit the market supremacy of the tech monopolies.“

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