France, The Netherlands Urge EU Watchdog For Tech Giants

Image credit: European Commission

More oversight? Two key European countries urge the creation of a European Union watchdog to police large technology firms

Two key countries in the European Union have called for the creation of a watchdog to regulate large technology firms such as Facebook and Google.

France and the Netherlands called on Thursday for the creation of a European Union authority to regulate large tech companies, Reuters reported.

It comes amid a growing hostile stance against big name tech firms. Last week for example Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook were publicly slated in a report from the antitrust subcommittee of the US Judiciary Committee.

Regulatory oversight

That report was scathing of the above technology firms, and the central thrust of its findings was that these tech firms have become so big they now flout anti-competition rules.

Yet the fact that France and the Netherlands have called for a European Union watchdog to regulate large tech companies, can be viewed as somewhat puzzling, given the European Commission already occupies the antitrust watchdog position for the EU.

EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is already working on a draft regulation, known as the Digital Services Act, that aims to set the ground rules for data-sharing and how digital marketplaces operate, Reuters reported, stating the recent call may increase pressure on her.

EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager.  European Commission
EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager.  European Commission

According to Reuters, in a joint statement, French junior minister Cédric O and his Dutch counterpart Mona Keijzer said such an authority should be able to prevent tech company platforms from blocking access to their services “unless they have an objective justification.”

“These platforms can hinder the entry of new companies and limit the freedom of choice for consumers and entrepreneurs,” said Keijzer, the Dutch state secretary for economic affairs and climate policy.

“Our common ambition is to design a framework … to address the economic footprint of such actors on the European economy and to be able to ‘break them open’,” said O, who handles digital transition and electronic communications in the French government.

Reuters has already seen the EC draft regulation last month, and reported that it includes a statement that so-called gatekeeper companies (i.e. those firms with bottleneck power or strategic market status), will not be allowed to use data collected on their platforms to target users unless this data is shared with rivals.

US pressure

Pressure on large tech giants is growing on both sides of the pond.

In the summer, the CEOs of big name tech firms including Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos and Sundar Pichai, appeared virtually in Washington DC before a US committee to answer antitrust and anticompetitive allegations.

Earlier this month the US Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday unanimously voted to approve a plan to subpoena chief executives of Twitter, Alphabet’s Google and Facebook for a hearing.

That came after after tech bosses refuse to appear on a voluntary basis before the US Senate panel on reform of Section 230 legal immunity.