Google to Facebook Risk New Wave of EU Curbs on Data Dominance

Ireland Rouses From Recession Woes

The 'Like' symbol hangs inside Facebook's European headquarters in Dublin.

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
  • EU warns of online platforms' bargaining power, data control
  • Document suggests shake up of EU rules governing the Internet

Companies like Google and Facebook Inc. risk new regulatory curbs as the European Union considers ways to limit how technology giants’ bargaining power and control of vast amounts of data may hurt competitors and customers.

Heralding tougher scrutiny of search engines, social media and app stores, the European Commission warned that so-called online platforms may no longer avoid rules that govern other industries such as telecommunications and broadcasters, according to a draft document circulated this week and obtained by Bloomberg.

"Imbalanced terms and conditions imposed by platforms potentially have the most detrimental impact on businesses’ activities," according to the paper, due to be published as soon as next month. There’s a "need for legal certainty about access to, and ownership of, data in order to stimulate investment and allow a more balanced contractual relationship." Regulators said they aren’t planning a one-size-fits-all rule for online companies, saying they want a "problem-driven approach" to tackle specific issues one by one.

EU Failure

Europe is wrestling with its failure to lead the charge in the Internet revolution while trying to respond to demands to regulate new online businesses from unhappy competitors and worried customers. France and Germany have urged the EU to draft new rules for Internet companies. The EU’s antitrust arm is also probing Google while Germany is scrutinizing whether Facebook coerces users to sign up to unfair terms.

Online platforms include search engines such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google, social media companies like Facebook, collaborative economy firms like Uber Technologies Inc., app download centers and online advertising networks, the EU says. Its definition excludes retailers or one-way distributors such as Netflix.

Google, Uber and Facebook didn’t immediately comment. The Brussels-based commission declined to comment.

In a separate document obtained by Bloomberg, the EU says it wants to boost online retail across the 28-nation bloc, partly by tackling geo-blocking and “by banning discrimination against citizens or businesses from other” EU nations. The EU’s geo-blocking proposal will give people access to more products at lower prices, it says.

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