Taming Tech Giants: Big Tech’s Web of Influence in EU Exposed as WhatsApp, Google Hit with Record Fines

Written by | Thursday, September 2nd, 2021

The actors from the digital industry – from Silicon Valley giants to Shenzhen’s contenders – now have more lobbying power than those from pharmaceutical, fossil fuels, financial, or chemical sectors, spending annually over €97m to influence EU decision-making, a report entitled ‘The Lobby Network: Big Tech’s Web of Influence in the EU’ has found. The research, released on Tuesday (31 August), by NGOs Corporate Europe Observatory and Lobby Control revealed an unbalanced playing field, where just a few firms dominate lobbying efforts in EU digital economy policies.As Big Tech’s market power has grown, so did its political clout. Now, as the EU tries to rein in the most problematic aspects of Big Tech – from disinformation, targeted advertising to unfair competition practices – the digital giants are lobbying hard to shape new regulations. The report has also found a wide yet deeply imbalanced ‘universe’ with a variety of 612 players that is, however, dominated by a handful of mostly US-based firms. Just ten companies are responsible for almost a third of the total tech lobby spend: Vodafone, Qualcomm, Intel, IBM, Amazon, Huawei, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google spend more than €32 million making their voices heard in the EU.
This comes as Ireland has hit Facebook’s WhatsApp with a record €225 million for breaking EU rules on user privacy. The country’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) said that WhatsApp Ireland had failed to provide the necessary data protection information to users. It’s the largest fine ever issued by the DPC and the second-largest imposed on an organization under EU data protection laws. The Facebook-owned messaging platform was also cited for failing to meet its “transparency obligations”. The body, which is the lead data privacy regulator for Facebook within the European Union, said the issues related to whether WhatsApp conformed in 2018 with EU data rules about transparency.”This includes information provided to data subjects about the processing of information between WhatsApp and other Facebook companies,” the Irish regulator said in a statement. WhatsApp said the fine was “entirely disproportionate” and that it would appeal. “We disagree with the decision today regarding the transparency we provided to people in 2018 and the penalties are entirely disproportionate,” the spokesperson’s statement said.
Meanwhile, Google said on Wednesday (1 September) it was appealing against a €500 million fine imposed by France’s antitrust watchdog in July over a dispute with local media about paying for news content. The French antitrust body imposed the sanction on Google for failing to comply with its orders on how to conduct the talks with publishers. The fine came amid increasing international pressure on online platforms such as Google, part of Alphabet Inc, and Facebook to share more of the revenue they make from using media outlets’ news.“We disagree with a number of legal elements, and believe that the fine is disproportionate to our efforts to reach an agreement and comply with the new law,” said Sebastien Missoffe, head of Google France.“We continue to work hard to resolve this case and put deals in place. This includes expanding offers to 1,200 publishers, clarifying aspects of our contracts, and sharing more data as requested by the French Competition Authority.”

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