The European Union (EU) has launched investigations into three tech giants – Meta (formerly Facebook), Apple, and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) – under a new law designed to regulate big tech companies. This move marks a significant step in the EU’s efforts to curb the power of these companies and create a fairer digital landscape. But what exactly is the EU investigating, and what does it mean for the public?

Why is the EU Cracking Down on Big Tech?

The EU has long been concerned about the dominance of big tech companies and the potential negative impacts they have on competition, innovation, and user privacy. These concerns have been amplified in recent years as big tech companies have grown even larger and more powerful.

The Digital Markets Act (DMA), which came into effect in November 2023, is a new law designed to address these concerns. The DMA identifies a category of companies it calls “gatekeepers” – these are large, online platforms that act as gateways between businesses and consumers. The DMA outlines a set of rules that gatekeepers must comply with, such as:

  • Ensuring fair access to their platforms for businesses
  • Not self-preferencing their own services over those of competitors
  • Allowing users to easily uninstall pre-installed apps
  • Being transparent about how they collect and use user data

What is the EU Investigating?

The EU is investigating whether Meta, Apple, and Alphabet are complying with the DMA. Some of the specific areas of investigation include:

App steering and self-preferencing: The EU is concerned that Apple and Alphabet may be steering users towards their own app stores and giving their own apps an unfair advantage over those of competitors. For example, Apple may make it more difficult to download apps from outside of the App Store.

Meta’s “pay or consent” model: The EU is concerned about Meta’s practice of giving users a choice between paying for its services or having their data used for advertising. The EU is concerned that this may not be a genuine choice, as many users may feel pressured to give up their data in order to use Meta’s services for free.

What Does This Mean for the Public?

The EU’s investigations into big tech companies could have a significant impact on the public. Here are some potential benefits:

Increased competition: If the EU finds that Meta, Apple, and Alphabet are not complying with the DMA, it could force them to change their practices in a way that promotes fairer competition. This could lead to more choice and innovation in the tech sector.

More control over your data: The DMA gives users more control over their data. For example, it requires gatekeepers to make it easier for users to transfer their data to other platforms.

A fairer digital landscape: The DMA is a step towards creating a more level playing field for businesses of all sizes. This could lead to more opportunities for startups and small businesses to compete with big tech companies.

Of course, there are also some potential challenges:

Uncertainty for businesses: The DMA is a new law, and it is still unclear how it will be enforced. This could create uncertainty for businesses that operate on EU platforms.

Higher costs for consumers: Some experts argue that the DMA could lead to higher prices for consumers, as tech companies may pass on the cost of compliance to users.

The EU’s investigations into big tech companies are a major development with the potential to significantly impact the tech sector. The outcome of these investigations will be closely watched by regulators, businesses, and consumers around the world.

In addition to the above, here are some other points to consider:

  • The EU is not the only regulator taking action against big tech companies. Regulators in other parts of the world, such as the United States, are also looking at ways to rein in the power of these companies.
  • The investigations into Meta, Apple, and Alphabet are likely to take some time. It could be months or even years before the EU reaches a decision.
  • The outcome of the investigations could have a ripple effect, prompting other tech companies to change their practices in order to comply with the DMA.

This blog post is just a starting point for understanding the EU’s investigations into big tech companies. There is a lot of complex legal and technical issues involved. But hopefully, it has given you a better understanding of why the EU is taking action and what it means for the public.

In the UK we have seen as more and more intersection of consumer protection, competition, online safety, privacy and data issues leading to greater coordination between domestic and international regulators. The Digital Regulators Cooperation Forum (DCRF) made up of the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and Ofcom has developed the DRCF AI and Digital and brings together four UK regulators with responsibilities for digital regulation.