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Efforts to crack down on big tech companies

The sudden boom in technology has made life easier and more secure during the pandemic. But it is being asked from the regulatory bodies that at what cost?

The New Year has arrived and due to the pandemic, preparations were made for the New Year’s Eve celebrations with the help of video calls and Digital Health Pass (Vaccine Certificate). In 2021, this had become the law.

Frederick Kalthuner, director and tech policy expert at the European AI Fund, a campaign shaping the role of artificial intelligence in Europe, told DW: “Many of these technologies were initially implemented when we thought they would be a minor emergency. I believe that 2022 will be the year in which we will realize that all this is not going to go away.

In practical terms, this means that the big tech companies were making profits and booming when the retail, service and industry sectors were reeling under lockdown and clogged supply chains. From tech hardware to digital advertising and automated cars – Silicon Valley giants like Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, Meta and Microsoft kept entering each other’s territories during the pandemic. Here is what Alexander Fanta has to say – he is a journalist for EU Tech Policy at Netspolitik, a German news organization covering the digital sphere.

“The strength of these companies is that they are so multifaceted. They tend to push different markets out of the way and use the power gained from one market to cement their position in another,” he told DW.

Facebook under criticism

These companies have become a bigger issue for the market regulators because of the straight and horizontal growth. Today it has become more difficult to keep an eye on what a company does. The continuous increase in wealth and the influence of these limited number of players creates many problems for people and online businesses.

This growth has also put these companies in more direct competition with each other. This became clear in April itself when the company called Facebook erupted over Apple’s software update that required iPhone users to opt-in for ad tracking, a pillar of social media giant Facebook’s business model. Facebook company, which recently came under the name Meta, fell slightly behind in its third quarter revenue target, then the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg blamed Apple for this.

By the way, Meta was busy trying to grab attention throughout the year. This is the most convincing example of how the wind has turned against the tech giants of their time. Growing public dissatisfaction with the company’s business practices ignited the last spark when a whistleblower exposed the company’s controversial business practices.

But the strategy of saving our brand by rebranding i.e. with a new name has been successful in diverting public attention towards the end of the year. In November, Zuckerberg unveiled the Metaverse blueprint, which the company is projecting as the next evolution of the Internet, describing it as an engaging and captivating online experience.

But not everyone is affected by it. Kaltheuner says that “there is no metaverse. It’s just a really cool way to talk about current problems. We’re already seeing this in events, people are still using the term even though it means No one knows. If I was Facebook, I would have changed the name too. That brand was not really good.” 

Regulators facing difficulties well

Nevertheless, the move raises the question of whether regulatory bodies or governments have the means to counter the thinking of big tech companies. Many examples show that he never tried hard.

This year, the European Union’s antitrust watchdog Margaret Vestager has launched her campaign to nab these players. Under this, drafts of major laws like Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA) have been introduced in late 2020. In this way, he has completed the legal preparations very fast.

The DMA law is meant to compel so-called gatekeeper companies like Google to give a more equal run to competitors who rely on online platforms. Through DSA, more control will be implemented on illegal content present on online platforms. 

Official talks will start in January 2022. Vestager expects these drafts to become legal before the European Parliament’s mandate is completed in 2024.

At the FT-ETNO Tech & Politics Forum in November, Vestager said, “It is important for everyone to understand that achieving 80 percent at the moment is better than never achieving 100 percent. That is to say, ‘ The ‘best’ should not be the enemy of the ‘very, very good’.”

The pace is encouraging. But some say that a speedy timeline may have come at the cost of a genuine consensus. Which means there will be more detailed talks going forward.

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