Everybody do the antitrust

Fully Charged

Hey all, it's Natalia in Brussels. Americans can't resist following the fashion trends set by Europe. Apparently, that philosophy also extends to antitrust policy.

Five years ago, U.S. officials were routinely asking the European Union to defend its intentions of cracking down on American internet giants. Today, Democrats are pushing an agenda that doesn't just echo earlier efforts in Europe but amplifies them.

Reforms proposed by the U.S. House antitrust committee last week urged Congress to consider legislation that would prevent large tech companies from owning different lines of businesses, which could effectively lead to breaking them up. Republican lawmakers are resistant, but they aren't insisting on protecting these American businesses, either. Instead, they're calling for greater oversight on the way companies run their websites. President Donald Trump, who considers deregulation and free-market economics as central platforms, called for a repeal of the policy that shields websites from liability over what they publish.

In the prior decade, the EU built a reputation as the toughest jurisdiction for tech giants. It rolled out strict privacy rules that could hit companies with hefty fines for any missteps and passed legislation forcing platforms to pay for copyrighted content. And it imposed major antitrust fees on Alphabet Inc.'s Google and other companies and continues to investigate Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc.

During that time, U.S. trade regulators were finishing up an anticlimactic probe into Google that ended in 2013 without any fines after securing voluntary changes from the company. In a 2015 interview with Recode, U.S. President Barack Obama said Europe's efforts against companies like Google and Facebook were "more commercially driven than anything else." Service providers in Europe, he said, "can't compete with ours." In a speech in Brussels later that year, Obama's ambassador to the EU said calls to regulate platforms came often "without presenting clear evidence of market distortions and without clearly demonstrating that the proposed remedies would lead to positive outcomes."

When Margrethe Vestager, the EU antitrust chief, levied her first multibillion-dollar fine on Google, it was controversial. Now the U.S. is presenting ideas even European officials describe as extreme.

The EU is planning a law due to be proposed at the end of the year that would ban powerful platforms from giving preference to their own services in search rankings or on devices and could force them to share customer data with business rivals. In addition, Vestager has said companies could be broken up as a very last resort under new competition rules to be unveiled later this year. The final drafts are still being worked out, but the prospect of barring tech giants from entering into other business areas altogether, like the House committee proposed, isn't even outlined as one of the more severe policy options in a preliminary document. 

At the same time, the Trump administration and states' antitrust enforcers are poised to file a historic monopoly lawsuit against Google, and additional cases against other companies could be in the pipeline. The U.S.'s agenda to rein in tech giants could end up helping the EU. By comparison, Europe is starting to look pretty conservative.Natalia Drozdiak

If you read one thing

SoftBank's Vision Fund is joining the frenzy around blank-check companies. The Japanese tech investor is expected to seek outside funds and may contribute some of its own. More than 100 blank-check companies have gone public this year in the U.S. raising over $40 billion.


And here's what you need to know in global technology news

Facebook said it will ban posts that deny the existence of the Holocaust. The new policy is a reversal for Mark Zuckerberg, who previously cited Holocaust denial as a form of speech that he finds offensive but that should be allowed on the website.

Disney is a streaming company now. The media conglomerate is remaking its operations to emphasize Disney+ after the coronavirus pandemic reshaped the movie business.

Wisconsin rejected a request from Foxconn for tax credits, saying the global manufacturer failed to deliver on the jobs it promised three years ago. The factory was unveiled in a splashy ceremony with President Donald Trump.

Beijing quietly experimented with a system that allowed millions of Chinese to view long-banned websites. The test, involving a government-affiliated web browser called Tuber, opened access to sanitized versions of Facebook, Google, Instagram, the New York Times and YouTube. It lasted just two weeks.

The personal computer had its best quarter in a decade. The pandemic has been good for the PC market.

After YouTube punished a prominent conservative voice on the site, his business flourished. Steven Crowder gained nearly a million subscribers since around the time he was penalized.


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