Digital Brief: GAFA hearing, Facebook Vs EU, Cyber sanctions

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“Your company uses data to spy on competitors and to copy, acquire, and kill rivals.”

– US Representative Pramila Jayapal to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Wednesday 29 July.



Story of the week: GAFA hearing. Digital eyes have been on Washington this week, with heads of the world’s largest tech giants being probed by members of the US congress.


Also this week: Facebook takes the EU to court, the European Commission presents new rules against online abuse, and the pushback against facial recognition tech in the US gains momentum.


Social media giant Facebook came in for heavy criticism as part of a US congressional hearing into the dominance of online tech platforms. The platform was accused of ‘copy, acquire and kill’ tactics as part of its history in acquiring smaller businesses. Read the full story here.

For the EU’s part, a statement from Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager obtained by EURACTIV, which was submitted to the US subcommittee on antitrust ahead of the hearing, highlights how the Commission would welcome greater alignment between the US and the EU in platform competition policy.

In term of policy solutions, Vestager floated the idea of establishing a ‘data silo’ rule, “where a conglomerate platform is prohibited from using specific data sets for certain business purposes in order to prevent it leveraging from one market to another.” Read more here.

Ahead of the meeting, EURACTIV was informed that the EU executive would be “closely following” developments stateside, and that the ongoing probe by the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee would “contribute to our own reflections on how to tackle the challenges for competition enforcement in digital markets in an effective and timely manner.”

In further competition rules this week, Google’s $2.1 billion bid for fitness tracker maker Fitbit will face a full-scale EU antitrust investigation next week, people familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

And in this context, Reuters reported yesterday that shares of Apple, Amazon, and Facebook have surged for the recent quarter, with Google’s also climbing.




Facebook takes EU to court. US technology giant Facebook is suing EU regulators after a spat between the two parties erupted over access to company documents as part of an ongoing antitrust probe.

New EU rules against online abuse. The Commission will propose legislation later this year and in 2021 that will force online platforms to undertake measures to stop the spread of online child abuse, EU home affairs chief Ylva Johansson announced on Friday (24 July).

Hate speech in Austria. In the fight against illegal online content, the Austrian government wants to make platforms more accountable. Many details are still missing, but the German NetzDG seems to be a model. Critics fear over-blocking and collateral damage but also see opportunities.

TikTok vs Facebook. Ahead of Facebook’s appearance in Washington, Chinese video-sharing platform TikTok hit out at the company, accusing Facebook of “maligning attacks…disguised as patriotism and designed to put an end to our very presence in the US,” as part of Zuckerberg’s opening statement.

Google transatlantic cable. Amid all the drama this week, you may have missed the news that Google plans to build a new undersea network cable connecting the US, UK and Spain, reports the BBC.



Sanctions. The European Union imposed on Thursday (30 July) travel and financial sanctions on a department of Russia’s military intelligence service and on firms from North Korea and China over their suspected participation in major cyberattacks across the world.

Security strategy. Better cybersecurity standards for critical infrastructure, doubling down on tackling terrorism and organised crime, and preparing the bloc for emerging threats in “real and digital” environments, dominated the European Commission’s new EU Security Union strategy, presented on Friday (24 July).

New NCSC head. The UK has appointed Lindy Cameron to take over from Ciaran Martin as the head for the UK’s principal technical authority on cybersecurity. Cameron will oversee UK’s security approach on 5G/Huawei, amongst other things.

Online Jihadist propaganda. Earlier this week, Europol published the second edition of its annual report on online Jihadist propaganda. Read more here.



5G security progress required. EU nations must make urgent progress on mitigating the risks to 5G telecommunications networks posed by certain high-risk suppliers, the Commission said in a progress report published on Friday (24 July).

Huawei in Germany. Telefonica Deutschland said earlier this week that it had taken steps to ensure it can build its 5G mobile network, if China’s Huawei were to be excluded from the German next-generation telecommunications infrastructure. More from Reuters here.



Startup innovation. Despite the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc across a range of sectors in the European single market, the bloc’s economic recovery can be aided by making the most of new markets that will emerge in the startup ecosystem, says European lawmaker Eva Kaili.



Hungary state aid. The Commission is still assessing a complaint over state aid for Hungary’s broadcast sector submitted in 2016, the EU executive confirmed on Monday (27 July) amid continuing criticism of Viktor Orbán’s government for eroding media plurality in Hungary.

This comes as tens of journalists have resigned from the 90-member editorial team of Index, Hungary’s leading independent media outlet, in what is being described as a devastating blow to the country’s free press and media plurality.

Bulgarian protests. Protests in Bulgaria are a genuine civil protest against the party-state and in favour of basic democratic rights such as media freedom, writes Maria Stoyanova.


Artificial Intelligence

Facial recognition. A recent letter from members of the US congress to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy calls for a ban on spending by US police forces for facial recognition technology.

Hikvision. Chinese video-surveillance company Hikvision, which has previously come in for criticism, for alleged spying on Uyghur minorities in Xinjiang province, has for the first time admitted that their surveillance equipment did have an Uyghur recognition analytic capacity – but they say this is being phased out, reports IPVM.

UN facial recognition pushback. Concerns are raised in this report on UN Security Council Resolution 2396 – covering the obligation of members to develop and implement systems to collect biometric data for counter-terrorism purposes. The document notes how human rights concerns should be taken into account when rolling out facial recognition software.

Hong Kong restrictions. The EU on Tuesday (28 July) agreed to limit exports to Hong Kong of equipment that could be used for surveillance and repression after Beijing imposed a controversial new security law.


This will be the last edition of The Digital Brief until September. Our network of newsrooms is taking a break during the summer weeks as the news cycle slows down.

As we get ready for the autumn, when we expect more policy developments and more events, we hope you also have a chance to unplug.



Amazon hiring spree. E-commerce giant Amazon has announced that it will boost e-commerce operations across Ireland, creating a further 1,000 permanent jobs in the country.

The move brings the total number of permanent posts for Amazon workers in Ireland to 5,000.

The new roles will comprise mostly technical and engineering posts, as well as more administrative roles, and will be based in Amazon’s Cork and Dublin sites, according to RTE.



Stakeholder dialogue. The Commission has launched a stakeholder dialogue on implementing Article 17 of the Copyright Directive, which established new rules for online content-sharing services providers. Read more here.



Privacy Shield. EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders and US Secretary of State for Commerce Wilbur Ross have been urged to pause talks on a new transatlantic data transfer agreement, until the US has “essentially equivalent” privacy protections at the federal level, in a letter from the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD) and the European Consumer organisation BEUC.

Irish data collection concerns. Ireland’s data watchdog has said it has “serious doubts” over whether social welfare inspectors were respecting the law when collecting data in relation to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), reports the Irish Times.

Digital identity consultation. The Commission has launched a public consultation on potential plans to establish an EU-wide digital identity scheme. More here.




On my radar

Keep an eye out for EURACTIV’s Autumn lookahead for Digital policy. In mid-August, we’ll be publishing a comprehensive breakdown of all the most important things to look out for during Q3 and Q4 2020. 


What else I’m reading this week:

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