Editorial

Recent EU antitrust fines to Internet giants such as Google and Apple were accompanied by an all but silent murmur expressed by citizens and their representatives across Europe.

Even media headlines at the time claimed the moral high-ground with rhetoric such as ‘the making of a big tech reckoning’, ‘the case for breaking up Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google’ or ‘EU addresses Google’s stranglehold on the smartphone market’. All championed the fine of 4.34 billion euros ($5.04 billion USD) against Google in a landmark antitrust case against its Android licensing practices. So are these comments generated by common sense or are they shortsighted? Is the media – mainstream and social – feeding into a certain mood of the times, with ‘back to the barriers’ sentiments similar to those expressed by nationalists in some EU member states?

Over the years, Europe has harmonized legislation at a regional level, making it possible for companies to sell products throughout the Union without setting up dedicated legal entities in every country in which they do business. Even foreign investors interested in a local presence in the European market can take advantage of implementing a regional no frontiers scheme. The EU is also pushing ahead with plans to rewrite tax rules for technology companies, with the scope of capture tax from companies that may have no offices, shops or other physical presence in a country, but are accruing profits through large numbers of online users or customers.

In the area of personal data and privacy, impact from the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is being felt globally as companies doing business with the EU continue efforts to become compliant with the world’s strictest regulation on privacy and personal data protection. With the scope of regulating the collection and use of personal information, this comprehensive set of rules aims to harmonize data privacy laws across Europe, enhance EU citizens’ rights to manage their personal data and reshape the way organizations across the region operate in the digital domain.

Is Europe is failing to understand and address the issue of trade in the digital economy? Perhaps. Time will, as always, give its verdict. In the wider world, international regulation of data privacy and digital trade in general is still fragmented. In June, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the independent agency of the US government whose principal mission is the promotion of consumer protection and the elimination and prevention of anticompetitive business practices, announced that it will start to hold hearings on ‘competition and consumer protection in the 21st century’. The hearings will center on whether broad-based changes in the economy, evolving business practices, new technologies or international developments might require adjustments to competition and consumer protection enforcement law, enforcement priorities and policy. It will be interesting to hear the FTC’s conclusions and recommendations as soon as they are in.