Tech

Google battles EU ruling as enforcers shift focus to data

Digital Politics is a column about the global intersection of technology and the world of politics.

In the age of the techlash, everyone likes a good fight — especially when it pits tech enforcers against Big Tech.

But as Google argued its appeal against a €2.4 billion European antitrust fine to one of the regions highest courts Wednesday, the focus for antitrust authorities in Europe, the United States and beyond has already moved on.

In short, this legal tussle is yesterdays news.

At stake in the Luxembourg court over the next three days is a 2017 decision — years in the making — over whether Google favored some of its search services over those of rivals.

Now, regulators are obsessed with how a small number of companies may be vacuuming up reams of peoples data to give them an unfair edge.

These competitors (comparison shopping sites) said the search giant unfairly demoted them in online results. European competition chief Margrethe Vestager agreed, fined Google a then-record sum and forced the company to change its practices.

The outcome of the case, which is expected in the second half of 2020, at the earliest, will define the European Commissions legacy on reining in Big Tech and is far from a done deal. In court on Wednesday, Google was hoping to overturn the 2017 decision as it argued that Brussels fines had limited innovation and that the search giant had been held to an unreasonably high standard.

But since that ruling almost three years ago, antitrust enforcers thinking about anti-competitive behavior online has changed.

Now, regulators are obsessed with how a small number of companies may be vacuuming up reams of peoples data — everything from health information to online purchasing details — to give them an unfair edge.

Its now data thats attracting the attention of competition enforcers | Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images for Somerset House

They remain concerned about dominant companies using their heft to push aside rivals. But its data — not page rankings or the position a competitor holds on a smartphone screen — that has become the name of the game.

“Can you both be a marketplace and have the data from all the vendors in this marketplace?” Vestager told POLITICO before the Google hearing started in Luxembourg. “In this marketplace where you are competing with all the people that you are actually hosting. Were looking at how data is being used in that respect.”

Vestagers inbox

For the Danish politician, newly appointed as the Commissions digital czar in charge of both competition enforcement and the regions industrial strategy, this shift comes as she tries to move away from the long shadow that the Google cases cast over her first five years in Brussels.

Taking over as the European Unions antitrust boss in 2014, she had a backlog of cases left over from Joaquín Almunia, her predecessor, that were in dire need of shifting.

And shift them she did.

Since 2017, Europes antitrust officials fined the tech giant more than €8 billion in three separate antitrust cases, all of which the company is appealing. That includes fines linked to some of its search services (which are now being appealed in Luxembourg), its Android operating system and parts of its online advertising offerings.

European Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager | Diarmuid Green/Web Summit via Getty Images

But since 2019 — just as United States competition authorities have also regained their interest in Big Tech — Vestager has followed the mood music, opening investigations into Facebook and Amazon over how they siphon off data in potentially anti-competitive ways. Apple is also facing complaints from rivals in Brussels and elsewhere that it uses its control over data in the companys online app store to push down rivals in favor of its own services. The company denies any wrongdoing.

That follows a Commission-sponsored report into how competition rules should work in the digital age that focused heavily on how such digital information could be useful to stifle rivals. The analysis will play into a revamp of the regions antitrust rules that is expected in the coming months.

“The ability to use data to develop new, innovative services and products is a competitive parameter whose relevance will continue to increase,” the authors wrote in rather dry prose.

Where one regulator goes, others will follow

Its not just Brussels pivoting toward data.

The United Kingdom commissioned a report by an Obama-era economist to look into digital competition which focused heavily on how dominant companies gathered and used peoples data. The countrys competition authority is reviewing Amazons proposed investment in Deliveroo, a London-based food delivery service Read More – Source

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