EU seeks new regulatory powers against big tech firms

Powers could include the ability to exclude large tech companies from the single market altogether

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton

The European Union wants more regulatory powers to force big US tech companies to break up or sell off operations in Europe if their dominance is deemed a threat to smaller firms or consumers. 

EU internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, told The Financial Times that these new powers could also include the ability to exclude large tech companies from the single market altogether.

Breton did suggest that would only be used in extreme circumstances, but it highlights the concerns that European regulators have around tackling big tech firms, such as Google and Facebook, when it comes to anti-competition or data privacy issues. 

The European Commission (EC) is set to propose new rules called the Digital Services Act by the end of this year, which will increase responsibility and liability for social media firms and the content on their platforms. 

Google has urged the EC to "clarify" its expectations towards tech companies regarding the Digital Services Act. The firm submitted a 135 page document calling for the EC to avoid a "one-size-fits-all" approach. The legislation would directly impact Google's video hosting service YouTube, which has been heavily criticised for its handling of harmful content. 

Similarly, Facebook has also faced criticism around harmful viral content but that is just one of a number of issues raised by the EC regarding the social network. Most recently, the Irish Data Protection regulator has ordered Facebook to stop transferring EU user data to the US.

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The reasoning comes after the European Court of Justice has ruled that Privacy Shield, the mechanism that companies used to transfer EU data to the US, is no longer valid under GDPR. Facebook could have used 'standard contractual clauses' (SCCs), but this is only valid if data controllers carry out assessments on whether it's possible for these contractual terms to be upheld in any country that deploys invasive surveillance laws - which is an issue in the US.

In response, Yvonne Cunnane, Facebook Ireland's head of data protection and associate general counsel, said it was not clear how the company could continue providing services in the EU if the Irish order is enforced, according to The Sunday Business Post.

"It is not clear to (Facebook) how, in those circumstances, it could continue to provide Facebook and Instagram services in the EU," she said.

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