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Europe's Breton threatens big tech with bans, fines

European Union (EU) internal market commissioner Thierry Breton, in an interview with German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, warned that big tech – US giants Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google – are firmly in the cross-hairs of the EU and may face heavy fines, or even bans on some services, if they don't comply with draft rules set out in the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA).

"Strict rules must be enforceable," Breton told Welt am Sonntag. "For this we need the appropriate arsenal of possible measures: impose fines, exclude companies or parts of their services from the [European] single market, insist that they split up if they want to keep access to the single market. Or a combination of all of these."

Breton, in collaboration with European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, is due to present the DSA and DMA to the European Parliament on December 2.

The DSA proposes new rules surrounding content moderation, online advertising and transparency of algorithms.

The DMA, on the other hand, is aimed at tackling misuse of market clout enjoyed by large online platform providers – so-called "digital gatekeepers" – through ex-ante legislation. Rather than ex-post rules, which deal with antitrust suits filed after the fact – and increasingly viewed by policymakers as ineffective when it comes to curbing big tech excesses – "ex-ante" rules are designed to stop problems from arriving in the first place by applying constraints.

Among the list of "unfair practices" set out in the DMA, targeted at those deemed to have significant market power, are platforms favoring their own services, as well as refusal to work with competing ones.

For the draft rules to come into force they must be approved by both the European Parliament and EU Member States.

Pichai says sorry to Breton

Alphabet clearly takes the draft rules seriously. So much so, its Google unit – as revealed in a leaked internal document – launched a "60-day strategy" last month to get US allies to apply pressure on Breton and force a digital rethink.

Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, in a videoconference call with Breton late last week, reportedly apologized for the manner in which the document came to light.

Although Pichai claimed he had not seen or sanctioned the document, he vowed – according to an unnamed source – to engage directly with Breton from now on in the event of seeing language or policy that he thought targeted Google.

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— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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