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GAFA is an acronym for Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon — the 4 most powerful American technology companies. Usage of the term “GAFA” is increasingly common in Europe. The acronym, originally from France, is used by the media to identify the 4 companies as a group – often in the context of legal investigations.

The EU has been butting heads with large companies for years. Let’s take a look at why it doesn’t like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon.

What’s Different About Europe?

The Europe Union, or EU, is composed of 28 countries. The major European powers, like France, Germany and (for the time being) the United Kingdom, are all members. The EU creates laws that cover all member states and treat every citizen equally. It is because of the EU that I, as an Irish person, am free to travel, work and live in almost any other European country.

The EU is based on the idea that nation states operating together are more powerful than those standing alone. It’s also generally quite hostile to the unfettered ambitions of corporations. Any company that seeks to acquire a monopoly, engage in anti-competitive practices, dodge taxes, or invade EU citizens’ privacy is likely to find themselves under investigation, and potentially facing a hefty fine.

Every GAFA company is currently under investigation by the EU for something.


Why the EU Doesn’t Like Google

Google knows a lot about you How Much Does Google Really Know About You? How Much Does Google Really Know About You? Read More , although there are some steps you can take to minimise it Concerned About Privacy? How To Keep Google At Arm's Length Concerned About Privacy? How To Keep Google At Arm's Length Concerned about Google's data collection policies in light of all privacy issues? It might not be a bad idea to keep Google away from your Internet activities. But just how can you do that? Read More . The company uses the information they pull from your browsing habits, emails, Google Drive files, and anything else they can get their hands on to serve you ever more targeted ads. In the past this has led to the EU criticising Google’s use of personal data.

More recently, the EU has been investigating Google for antitrust violations. Microsoft has been fined €2.2 billion for abusing it’s dominant market position and pushing it’s own services over the years, and the EU is concerned that Google is doing the same with search and Android. If they’re found to be abusing their position, they’ll face billions of euro worth of fines and be required to change their business practices.

Google has already been forced, by the EU, to change how it operates. After a landmark ruling last year, citizens of the EU have the “right to be forgotten” on the Internet. People can request that search engines remove links to web pages that contain information about them — although MakeUseOf readers don’t seem too fussed about it.

Why the EU Doesn’t Like Apple

Apple Music was only unveiled this month Apple Unveils Apple Music at WWDC, U.S. Army Website Hacked, & More... [Tech News Digest] Apple Unveils Apple Music at WWDC, U.S. Army Website Hacked, & More... [Tech News Digest] Apple Music arrives at last, the United States Army gets hacked, Uwe Boll's Kickstarter rage, Pizza Hut Blockbuster Box movies, and Grand Theft Auto V in real life. Read More but, according to Reuters, the deals they’ve inked with record companies are already under investigation.

The EU, however, is more interested in Apple’s tax practices. The Union already shut down some tax loopholes, such as the Double Irish The Doom Of The Double Irish, And How It Affects You The Doom Of The Double Irish, And How It Affects You Technology companies currently using a tax scheme known as the Double Irish will soon have to look for other ways to reduce their tax burdens. Read More , that Apple used to minimize their tax burden, both in Europe and the US. The Union is continuing to investigate whether other practices they engaged in were legal. A ruling was due this month but has been pushed back.

Why the EU Doesn’t Like Facebook

The EU isn’t keen on Facebook for the same reason most people aren’t — it’s questionable privacy record Facebook Privacy: 25 Things The Social Network Knows About You Facebook Privacy: 25 Things The Social Network Knows About You Facebook knows a surprising amount about us – information we willingly volunteer. From that information you can be slotted into a demographic, your "likes" recorded and relationships monitored. Here are 25 things Facebook knows about... Read More .

There are several investigations, and a class action law suit, looking into whether or not Facebook’s privacy policy is legal. So far things are looking bad for Facebook. Despite frequent updates, a Belgian report released earlier this year “found that Facebook is acting in violation of European law“.

Just like the other companies, Facebook could face heavy fines if they don’t fall into line with the EU’s policies.

Why the EU Doesn’t Like Amazon

The EU’s issue with Amazon is a little different.

The EU wants a Digital Single Market where every citizen would be able to purchase the same products at the same price as any other, regardless of where the products were being sold from. They are, according to VentureBeat, concerned that Amazon, and other e-commerce companies like Netflix, “have policies that restrict the ability of merchants and consumers to buy and sell goods and services across Europe’s borders.” For example: videos offered by the company’s streaming aren’t available in every country, which is at odds with the EU’s aim to treat every member nation and citizen equally.

A year-long investigation launched this year so, at least for now, Amazon is free to continue as they are.

What Do You Think?

The EU is clearly not going to let the GAFA companies operate unchecked, nor let them have the same level of independence they enjoy in the US. The EU takes a much more hands on approach to consumer protection and anti-competition laws than the Obama administration.

So tell me, what do you think? Is the EU overreaching in its regulation of the GAFA companies or is it right to limit the tech giants’ ambitions?

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  1. Read and Share
    June 23, 2015 at 5:39 pm

    Religion, Government, Big Business... Competition can be a very good thing. Imagine a society with an over-domineering religion (Iran), government (China) or big business (monopoly). Not good.

    Our founding fathers recognized the benefits of separation of powers. In a similar way, it's a good thing to see our giant institutions checking each other.

    "American" has nothing to do with it. Power corrupts. I view all giant institutions with suspicion -- esp. those that are monopolistic or on the verge of becoming one..

  2. Christopher HasARightToPrivacy
    June 21, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    I don't feel like I have enough information to form a valuable opinion but It kind-of seems to me that, while America's population is forfeiting their privacy without much concern, the EU may be doing something right. I sure do like the idea of "the right to be forgotten" on the internet.

    I like the idea of a government that ATTEMPTS to protect their citizens from large corporations and not the other way around.

  3. jaikzelf
    June 21, 2015 at 8:23 am

    World wide corporations want to be the new rulers of the world. They don't bother about individual governments.
    So it's a very good thing that the EU keeps a close look at all these huge players since they are the new dictators.
    Just remember what the banks brought over us in 2008, so far without a single conviction for the protagonists in this debacle.

  4. James Van Damme
    June 20, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    I don't use Microsoft or Apple. You don't need to either.

  5. Todd Clay
    June 19, 2015 at 2:11 am

    We used to enforce our monopoly laws in the US back in the 60's then Nixon and Reagan happened.

  6. fcd76218
    June 18, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    "Why The EU Doesn’t Love Large American Internet Companies"
    EU government does not like ANY large American companies because they do not fill EU's coffers they way EU wants them to.
    Why isn't Microsoft included on this list?

    "The EU is based on the idea that nation states operating together are more powerful than those standing alone."
    America hit on that idea 240 years ago. That is why we have a United States rather than a gaggle of 50 countries on this side of the pond. As Benjamin Franklin stated "We must hang together, gentlemen...else, we shall most assuredly hang separately."

    "It’s also generally quite hostile to the unfettered ambitions of corporations."
    Let's not be disingenuous. What about GlaxoSmithKline or Novartis or Total SA or FIAT? Why isn't EU "hostile" to the "unfettered ambitions" of those corporations? Is it perhaps because they are not American?

    As Howard Roark says, EU is the European companies' worst enemy with all its anti-business regulations.

  7. Bill Rabbit
    June 18, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    One must ask, how long until the EU competes at the Olympics as one entity like the United States?

  8. Howard Roark
    June 18, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    One must ask why there is no tech giant of European origin. These investigations are a large reason why none has existed nor probably ever will. The EU is too focused on fair vs unfair for local this vs non local that. They try so hard to keep everyone happy that they end up frustrating those that try to do something new and innovative. Yes there are exceptions Spotify, Nokia (whats' left of them). The everyone gets a trophy attitude doesn't work very well in business or tech.

  9. Rokas Jankunas
    June 18, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    EU does what people need. Random people can fight with huge companies who can afford best layers etc this is the main reason why they are fighting and it's good.