15th Jun 2021

EU anti-trust chief eyes 'big data' and privacy

The EU's anti-trust chief Margrethe Vestager on Sunday (17 January) warned the hoarding of data by tech giants like Google or Amazon could harm competition and violate internal market rules.

"If just a few companies control the data you need to satisfy customers and cut costs, then you can give them the power to just drive rivals out of the market," she said.

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The 47-year old Danish European commissioner is known for taking a tough stand against big firms that unfairly squeeze out competitors from the same market share. Often, such companies either benefit from special tax advantages or exploit their dominance.

The latest foray takes a stab at US internet firms ahead of a 31 January deadline on a new so-called Safe Harbour data transfer pact between the US and EU.

The agreement, whose deadline is likely to be missed, governs how US firms are supposed to protect privacy rights of EU citizens whenever they transfer and use their data.

The previous pact was scrapped by the Court of Justice of the European Union, the bloc's top court in Luxembourg, last October, in part because of broader issues over mass surveillance and fundamental rights.

While privacy issues are outside Vestager's remit as competition chief, she noted that allowing Google and Facebook to have all the data was "not good".

Last April, she brought anti-trust charges against Google's Alphabet Inc. and has also denounced, in a separate case, Google's use of Android throughout the EU.

She's also tackling Apple's tax scheme in Ireland and is digging into cross-border trade practices by e-commerce companies like Amazon.com.

Speaking at a conference for policy makers and the tech industry in Munich on Sunday, Vestager said data-driven companies should not abuse their dominance to undermine smaller businesses.

"If a company's use of data is so bad for competition that it outweighs the benefit, then you may have to step in to restore the level playing field," she said.

She said she would also look into geo-blocking, a practice that places restrictions on where content can be viewed or used.

Although her targets also include Russia's energy giant Gazprom and European firms, her critics accuse her of unfairly targeting US firms.

Last week, she declared as illegal a tax scheme in Belgium that benefited mostly European multinationals.

Some of those firms reportedly include AB InBev, German chemical firm BASF, oil company BP and pharmaceutical firm Pfizer.

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