The European Union’s competition chief has a warning for Big Tech: the heat is staying on.
Margrethe Vestager said in an interview that “We are definitely not done yet” when it comes to looking at whether companies are abusing their access to users’ personal information.
“We want to figure out, is this a fair use of data?,” she said in a televised interview with Bloomberg. At a conference yesterday in Berlin, she likened Big Tech to “robot vacuum cleaners,” saying they are “are working their way into every corner of our digital world and sucking up data.”
Vestager pointed to a number of forthcoming cases in the EU antitrust docket, including new probes into Amazon Marketplace, Facebook’s planned Libra digital currency and Google’s job listing product.
Vestager, a Danish politician from the Social Liberal Party, was appointed EU Competition Commissioner in 2014 and became the scourge of Big Tech by promoting the EU’s more muscular approach to regulation that takes a holistic view of competition, compared to the U.S. antitrust model that focuses on pricing.
Previous tech scalps include forcing Apple in 2016 to pay back almost $15 billion in tax benefits it had received from the Irish government — which was the largest tax fine in history. In 2017, she levied Google parent company Alphabet with a fine of $2.7 billion over abuse of its market dominance in search, and earlier this year slapped the company with a further $1.7 billion fine for similar abuses over online advertising. Chipmaker Qualcomm has been fined about $1 billion.
“A decision is not just a fine. It is also to say ‘stop what you’re doing, stop doing something that has the same effect. You have to change behavior’,” Vestager told Bloomberg. She pointed to how in the future Android users will choose if they want to use Google’s Chrome browser and whether they want Google to be the default search engine.
Vestager was reappointed to another five year term last month.
Upcoming tech cases that Vestager is set to preside over include:
- Investigation into whether or not Amazon is behaving anti-competitively on its Marketplace platform, which lets smaller, third party sellers sell products through Amazon. The concern is that since Amazon controls the shopping experience and sells goods through the platform, it may have an unfair advantage. Particular interest is being given to the Amazon “buy box,” which enables a product to be added to the user’s shopping cart instantly. Vestager has also said that an existing investigation into Amazon’s E-Book practices remains unresolved.
- Google is being investigated over both jobs search and local searches. The EU’s concerns are that it could prejudice search results based on listings in its own job search and local products, over those of competitors.
- And though a full, formal inquiry has not yet been launched, EU regulators are sniffing around Facebook’s Libra digital currency. They reportedly have sent questionnaires to companies involved in the project.
Karma Takeaway: Vestager’s reappointment means continued pressure on the biggest names in tech. Cooperation from the companies, which control so much of the world’s digital lives, may determine the size of financial penalties and the scope of future regulations.