Europe has the motivation, but not the means, to break up Big Tech. For the US, the inverse is true. That’s bad news for anyone hoping for a full regulatory reckoning with Silicon Valley’s and Seattle’s giants over their monopolistic tendencies.
Washington lawmakers see their job as protecting the consumer first and foremost, while Brussels wants to make sure other companies are allowed to compete with the incumbents. Sadly for Europe, the Americans have all the power but
their approach is unlikely to produce radical change (as my Opinion colleague Tara Lachapelle wrote).
That isn’t to say the European Union is wasting its time in leading the charge against Big Tech.
Congress’s grilling last week of the chief executives of Apple Inc, Amazon.com Inc, Google parent Alphabet Inc and Facebook Inc showed that the “Brussels Effect” is in full force. The EU plays an outsized role when it comes to regulation because other regions — even the Americans — tend to follow its lead. Up to a point, at least.
As US lawmakers made the case against the West Coast giants, time and again their arguments echoed efforts already well underway in Europe.
When the Democratic Representative David Cicilline tackled the way Google displays news
snippets in search results without reimbursing the publishers, he evoked new copyright laws proposed by the EU last year.
For two years Brussels has been looking at whether Amazon uses its marketplace data to compete unfairly with the sellers on its website; that’s now a hot topic on Capitol Hill too. The market power of Apple’s App Store and of virtual assistants such as Siri and Alexa, both of which are the subject of new EU investigations, were also on Congress’s agenda.
When people ask Margrethe Vestager and other European trustbusters
what power they really have to moderate the behaviour of trillion dollar US companies, this is often their answer: When Brussels uncovers bad corporate behaviour, it lays out a
road map for Washington to follow.
Tackling companies with combined annual revenue of $782 billion, more than the gross domestic product of Switzerland, is a huge challenge, meaning competition authorities benefit from the work that’s already been done elsewhere.