Digital Brief: EU competition clampdown

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“Many downsides of the digital transformation process…are not due to a lack of rules in the first place, but to the difficulty of enforcing these in the sometimes opaque digital space. This needs to change.”

– Leaked European Commission Digital Strategy Paper.



Competition crackdown. The European Commission is mulling over measures to bolster competition rules for digital services in order to rein in the dominance of global tech giants and foster “technologies that work for people”, a draft communication obtained by EURACTIV reveals.

The Commission finds that its plans for the future of the digital sector will be marked by how it is able to leverage regulation as a means to ensure a competitive landscape in the European Union, fostering a “vibrant, globally competitive, value-based and inclusive digital economy and society” through three columns of activity: ‘Technology that works for people’, a ‘fair and competitive digital economy’ and a ‘digital and sustainable society.’

On competition, the Commission states that it is currently in the process of “evaluating and reviewing the competition rules to ensure that they remain fit for purpose,” and will also launch a sector inquiry in the field. A specific timeline of when such reforms could be put forward is still being considered.

Brexit Data Transfers. The United Kingdom will seek to diverge from EU data protection rules and establish its own ‘sovereign’ controls in the field, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday (3 February). His comments came despite the EU affirming that the UK should “fully respect EU data protection rules.”

In a written statement to the House of Commons earlier this week, the prime minister said the United Kingdom will “develop separate and independent policies” in a range of fields, including data protection, adding that the government would seek to maintain high standards in so doing.

UK Council Surveillance. A new study from the search engine Brave has uncovered widespread surveillance of UK citizens by private companies embedded on UK council websites. The report highlights that people seeking help for addiction, disability, and poverty on council websites were specifically targeted.

Justice Ministers on tech risks. At yesterday’s COREPER II meeting, EU member state representatives discussed the forthcoming five-year strategies in justice and home affairs. In a copy of the draft guidelines, obtained by Statewatch, a series of risks have been highlighted concerning the use of next-generation technologies and Artificial Intelligence in Europe.  To alleviate the potential risks, ministers say that ‘preventative’ measures should be considered.

“New technologies currently emerge in a loose regulatory environment, which is an issue in view of the disruption they are apt to cause to representative democracies,” the document states. “One way of addressing this concern upfront is to encourage at EU level a preventive approach, involving dialogues with industry, research and academia and taking an active part in standard-setting instances.”

An EU official close to the matter revealed that there were little divisions between member states in yesterday’s COREPER II meeting, and that the strategies will be discussed in an upcoming meeting on 19 February.

Qualcomm investigation. The European Union is investigating whether Qualcomm engaged in anti-competitive behaviour by leveraging its market position in 5G modem chips in the radio frequency chip market, the San Diego company said on Wednesday in a regulatory filing.

Neo-Nazi Propaganda on Dropbox. The Counterextremism Project reports that a neo-Nazi album has been found on the file hosting service recently. Reports suggest that the music contains lyrics praising a “white ethnostate” and encouraging the “murder and genocide” of ethnic minorities. CEP say that the album was spread on Telegram and Reddit.

Industrial Strategy Lobbying. Digital Europe released yesterday a position paper on the EU’s forthcoming industrial strategy, a draft version of which was recently leaked by EURACTIV. The lobbyists are calling for clear alignment in the EU’s future industrial approach, an increase in spending commitments, and a deeper harmonization of regulatory frameworks. The final version of the EU’s industrial strategy is due to be published on March 10.

Media Project Group. The EU’s Media Project Group, which includes Commissioners Jourová, Vestager, Breton, Gabriel, Reynders, and Várhelyi met yesterday for the first time since the group was established. The collective is expected to work on EU proposals related to media sustainability on the continent, including the Commission’s Media Action Plan to be presented in Q4 2020, as well as the Democracy Action Plan.

Huawei EU manufacturing plans. Chinese telecom giant Huawei said on Tuesday (4 February) it would set up manufacturing hubs in Europe, as it tries to fight off US pressure on EU nations to stop it from operating, writes EURACTIV’s Georgi Gotev. “Huawei is more committed to Europe than ever before,” the company’s top executive for Europe, Abraham Liu, said during a Chinese New Year reception in Brussels. The event also marked the 20th anniversary of Huawei’s presence in Europe.

Common chargers. In a resolution adopted on 30 January, MEPs called on the Commission to force tech companies to adopt a universal charger. EURACTIV’s partner Le Journal de l’Environnement reports. Whether Apple likes it or not, MEPs want a universal charger for mobile phones, tablets and other small mobile devices. The idea, launched by Brussels in 2009, was met with resistance from the industry at the time.

State-sponsored activity on Twitter. Social media giant Twitter revealed on Tuesday (4 February) that its platform has been subjected to inauthentic coordinated activity which led to the matching of users’ profiles with their phone numbers. The company says that the activity may have been conducted by a state-sponsored actor.

Anti-Amazon cap for book discounts. The Italian Senate has given the go-ahead for a new national action plan to promote reading. The law includes a rise in tax credit for bookstores, the setting of the annual Italian Capital of Book and a 5% cap to discount applicable to book sales, which is intended to curb digital platforms such as Amazon.

Google investigation. The Irish Data Protection Commission has announced that they are to embark on a formal investigation of Google, due to concerns over the way the company processes user location data. The investigation has been launched after Ireland’s data protection watchdog received a series of complaints from consumer organisations related to the legality of Google’s processing of location data and the transparency of such processing. Samuel Stolton has more.

Alina-Stefania Ujupan from the Cabinet of  @vestager at the Opening Ceremony of the #11EIS: ‘It won’t be enouh to only have #HorizonEurope, Europe already leads in #research, the problem is what happens after, from #implementation to #society, here is the gap.’

Following the deadly coronavirus outbreak in China, telecommunications giant Huawei has put in place a series of ‘precautions’ and ‘internal rules’ for international travel ahead of the company’s appearance at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) at the end of February.

BBC future in doubt. The British government announced plans on Wednesday (5 February) to stop prosecuting people who do not pay the BBC’s compulsory subscription fee, sparking concerns about the broadcaster’s future funding.

UK’s digital sector. Recently published government figures show that the country’s digital sector contributed £149 billion to the UK in 2018, accounting for 7.7% of the UK economy – an increase of 7.9% from the previous year.

Johnson & Journalists. On Monday, Downing Street excluded several UK media outlets, from a briefing about the UK-EU trade deal talks. In response, all invited journalists decided to boycott the meeting.

EU Space Policy. How will Elon Musk’s grand plans for space satellites change life on Earth for European citizens? The European Parliament has produced a brief study on what could be in store.



On my radar.

Google’s fight against a 2.4-billion-euro EU antitrust fine will be played out over three days next week, between 12 and 14 February at the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice. 



What else I’m reading this week:



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