EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager in favour of regulating data access over breaking up big tech firms

Vestager said there should be a focus to ensure big tech giants do not misuse their dominant market position


Over the weekend, there has been a lot of chatter around US Senator Elizabeth Warren's call for breaking up big tech companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and as we found out yesterday, even Apple. Warren is running as the 2020 Presidential candidate, so her proposal to break up big tech has certainly got everyone's attention.

In what can be considered to be a self-goal on the matter, Facebook pulled off quite a few of Warren's political ads from Facebook. Those ads have now been restored, but it just brought the point home that Warren was trying to make through her Medium post.

"Curious why I think Facebook has too much power? Let's start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power," Warren tweeted.

EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager in favour of regulating data access over breaking up big tech firms

European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager holds a news conference at the EU Commission's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 21, 2018. Image: Reuters

But it looks like not everyone is in favour of breaking up these technology giants. One among them, the Competition Commissioner of the European Union, Margrethe Vestager, has said that breaking up big tech companies should only be seen as a last resort.

Vestager has a reputation for bringing tech giants operating in the EU region under the scanner. Apple was ordered to pay €13 bn in back taxes, Google has been fined €2.4 bn for manipulating search results and many more instances cement Vestager's position as someone technology companies are wary of.

In an interview with Recode's Kara Swisher at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, Vestager said that EU would approach breaking up companies only as the last extreme measure.

On being asked why she thought to break up big tech companies was a last resort, Vestager said that it was very far-reaching. "We are dealing with private property. Businesses that are built and invested in and become successful because of their innovation. To break up a company, to break up private property would be very far-reaching and you would need to have a very strong case that it would produce better results for consumers in the marketplace than what you could do with more mainstream tools," she said.

Instead, she said there should be a focus to ensure that these big tech giants do not misuse their dominant position in the market to drive out any competition by using tactics such as self-promotion and demotion of competition on their platforms.

Vestager is in favour of regulating data access for controlling tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, among others. She said she was happy to see that talks about regulating companies were picking up in the US, as that would help improve competition which would enable markets that would ultimately serve citizens.

Warren had called for the breakup Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple, among other big tech firms.

"Apple, you’ve got to break it apart from their App Store. It’s got to be one or the other. Either they run the platform or they play in the store. They don’t get to do both at the same time," said Warren. Warren said that because Apple runs the App Store, it has an immediate advantage over app developers who sell their products and services on the App Store. Apple has all the data about people's buying habits on the App Store, and because Apple runs the App Store, it can very well promote its own apps over that of third-party app developers. These same rules would apply to Google Play Store as well, where Google does promote a lot of its own in-house apps.

The idea behind this move, according to Warren, is that small businesses should not be gobbled up by big tech. For instance, if there is a small business selling its wares on Amazon and doing great business, there is a high chance that Amazon will either try to buy this seller or have a similar product on its marketplace, which Amazon could promote over the small business. Warren wants that to not be a concern for small business owners.