EU competition watchdogs punish Facebook

Facebook's purchase of Whatsapp is having expensive repercussions: the EU Commission has imposed a fine of 110 million euros on the US company for providing false information about data sharing before the takeover. The press praises Europe's competition authorities - but also warns that they must do more to counter the dominant position of US technology companies.

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Večer (SI) / 19 May 2017

Commissioner Vestager points the way forward

Večer is delighted to see EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager taking a hard line:

“There aren't many people whom the owners and bosses of US technology giants Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon fear. But among those who are a thorn in these companies' side is EU Competition Commissioner Vestager. She doesn't care who she's dealing with. All she wants to ascertain is whether Europe's competition rules are being observed. ... In order to survive, the EU, which the people no longer trust because it has proven incapable of resolving the major crises, urgently needs resolute people like Margrethe Vestager. Her kind have the potential to change the EU so that it puts the citizens' welfare first.”

Handelsblatt (DE) / 18 May 2017

Stiffer fines on the way

The European Commission's fine is a final warning for Facebook, Handelsblatt concludes:

“ The company can afford the fine; in the first quarter of this year alone, it made three billion dollars in profit. ... But this concerted action against Facebook testifies to a heightened vigilance on the part of the monitors. With the new EU regulations due to come into force next year the data protection watchdogs will have more effective tools at their disposal: they'll be able to impose fines of up to four percent of annual turnover for violations. This could make breaking the rules so expensive for Facebook that it can no longer simply factor them into the equation.”

Der Standard (AT) / 19 May 2017

Whatsapp left untouched

It is inconsistent of the EU to punish Facebook but take no action against the monopoly status of its subsidiary Whatsapp, Der Standard criticises:

“Nine out of ten teenagers in Austria now use Facebook's messenger App to text their friends. And even if they don't, the programme is installed on practically every mobile. Facebook cemented this pole position years ago by refusing to open Whatsapp up to other messaging services like Apple's Facetime, Skype or Signal. So many people have to install Whatsapp if they want to stay in contact with their friends and colleagues. ... Technically speaking it wouldn't be a problem to open Whatsapp so that users can text people using other messaging services. That way they could choose for themselves which messenger they use - the way they do with email providers.”

Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) / 19 May 2017

No impact on power of US companies

Il Sole 24 Ore doubts that the EU's fines will be able to reduce the power of US IT companies:

“Are such decisions made to uncompromisingly safeguard human rights, in other words to protect the private sphere? Or are they of a pragmatic nature, aimed at countering the dominance of the US digital industry? ... And are these decisions effective? Or pointless when they come too late? Particularly since the view that the rules always lag a little behind technological progress is not unfounded. ... What's clear is that such decisions don't jeopardise the enormous power of the big US internet platforms. If European companies are having trouble competing with the US companies the reasons cannot be solely political. A lot depends on the quality of the European companies. In Russia, China and South Korea, with their different political systems, the US platforms are in the minority.”

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