Equipo Nizkor
        Bookshop | Donate
Derechos | Equipo Nizkor       


European Antitrust Chief Takes Swipe at Privacy Issue

Margrethe Vestager, the European Union's antitrust chief, warned on Sunday that the collection of a vast amount of users' data by a small number of tech companies like Google and Facebook could be in violation of the region's tough competition rules.

Ms. Vestager's comments are the latest in a growing chorus of European criticism about the privacy practices of American tech giants, many of which rely on crunching data based on people's social media posts, online search queries and e-commerce purchases to fuel their digital advertising businesses.

The comments by Ms. Vestager, who, as the region's top competition official, has sweeping powers to fine companies that are found to abuse their dominant market positions, show that European officials are stepping up their fight to strengthen data protection. In the European Union, an individual's right to privacy is viewed on par with other fundamental rights like freedom of expression.

"If a few companies control the data you need to cut costs, then you give them the power to drive others out of the market," Ms. Vestager said at the DLD conference, a gathering of digital executives and policy makers.

She said that "it's hard to know" how much data is given up when using an online messaging service.

"But it's a business transaction, not a free giveaway," she continued. "As consumers, we need to be treated fairly."

Ms. Vestager's warning shot in the often-rancorous privacy debate comes ahead of a Jan. 31 deadline for Europe and the United States to reach a new data-sharing agreement.

The new so-called safe harbor agreement is needed after the European Court of Justice ruled last year that Europeans' digital data was not sufficiently protected when transferred to the United States. Negotiations between the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, and the United States Commerce Department are continuing — though legal experts, government officials and industry watchers think that an agreement may not be reached by the end of the month.

A number of European executives echoed Ms. Vestager's fears about how a small number of American tech companies could use their large-scale data collection to favor their own services over those of rivals. Among them was Oliver Samwer, the German entrepreneur who co-founded Rocket Internet, one of the region's most high-profile tech companies.

"If someone like Google or Facebook has all of the data, then that's not good," Mr. Samwer said here on Sunday.

But for Ms. Vestager, a 47-year-old Danish politician who has garnered both fans and detractors for her ambitious competition activities, adding data protection to her portfolio could prove difficult.

She has already begun, for example, investigations into Apple's tax practices in Ireland and has started a wide-ranging inquiry into e-commerce that analysts say could encompass the likes of Amazon, among others.

Ms. Vestager also brought antitrust charges against Google last April, saying the search giant had unfairly favored some of its digital services over those of rivals. An announcement in that case is expected in late spring, according to officials, while a separate European investigation continues into whether Google used Android, its popular mobile software, to unfairly restrict rivals from operating in the 28-member bloc.

On Sunday, Ms. Vestager denied claims that Europe was unfairly targeting American tech companies, although some executives in the United States have claimed that European officials are trying to bolster local technology companies at the expense of their large American rivals.

Ms. Vestager added that she was not against further consolidation within the industry, despite European antitrust officials' balking at a number of recent proposed takeovers in the region's telecommunications sector that they said would reduce competition at the consumer level. Future mergers, she said, should not reduce consumer choice and worsen market competition.

"You can't just go out there and buy yourself a monopoly," Ms. Vestager said.

[Source: By Mark Scott, The New York Times, Munich, 17Jan16]

Bookshop Donate Radio Nizkor

Privacy and counterintelligence
small logoThis document has been published on 19Jan16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.