Mid-term report: how are Big Tech giants handling the EU’s new digital rules?

Article by:Lee Wakefield


Last year, the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act were introduced by the European Union. The new digital rules are part of a new drive to put Big Tech companies under greater scrutiny and pressure them into protecting users.

The EU has initially had a small selection of Big Tech giants in its sights; Google owner Alphabet, retailer Amazon, iPhone maker Apple, TikTok owner ByteDance, Facebook owner Meta and computing giant Microsoft. These organisations dominate key mobile technologies and, according to the EU, have special responsibilities to keep in mind when it comes to market fairness and consumer safety.

All companies had until 7 March 2024 to comply with the new laws and demonstrate they had made necessary changes. If not, huge fines of up to 10% of their annual turnover could be set. 

So, how have these companies got on with their homework? If recent reports are to be believed, few have passed with flying colours.

End of term exams

Despite making self-confessed efforts to fall in line over the last few months, investigations have already been opened into some practices. Much of the scrutiny will fall on how consumers, who use these platforms in their billions, are affected. The focus will be whether companies are purposefully acting anti-competitive; for example, if they are actively stopping developers from redirecting customers towards external app stores.

Alphabet and Apple’s new measures may still not be fully compliant. The EU suspects that both companies are imposing various restrictions and limitations even now, which is why investigations are already underway.

Should Meta users be forced to pay if they don’t want their data shared? The EU isn’t sure, summoning another investigation to analyse the ethics of such a move. The same goes for the inability to uninstall Apple’s pre-loaded apps on its devices. That’s not all; the commission is also gathering information on Amazon giving favourable billing to its own products over competitors, something the Digital Markets Act is set up to eradicate.

Marking a pile of homework

We’re used to these processes taking years usually, but progress could be much quicker now. That’s because EU officials have been making positive noises about the crack down, launching investigations only two weeks after Big Tech companies filed their records. That’s pretty unheard of up to now.

Still, the timeline is murky, with some predicting fines could be dished out by the end of the year if the pace of progress continues at the rate it has.

On the EU’s rapid response, Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for Internal Market, said: “We’re talking about the protection of our citizens, we can’t just sit around and wait.” While it’s positive to hear, some cynical observers will note that there’s an upcoming EU election in June. Let’s hope this isn’t the case; it would be a shame to see positive groundwork fall by the wayside in the latter half of 2024.

Next term

As with the introduction of the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act, consumers are in uncharted territory. The day to day impact should be minimal, but we can expect bullish statements from Big Tech leaders once the dust settles on these new developments. The jury is out, however, on whether bosses will be receptive.

Vote winner or not for EU candidates, an attempt to whip these Big Tech companies into shape is long overdue. But there is no quick fix, despite what the EU may have us believe. We should expect it to take time; after all, these firms have marked their own homework for years. We can only hope that the EU’s pressure tactics are a sign of its commitment to enrol Big Tech bosses into further education and beyond.


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