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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, although there are some steps you can take to minimise it. 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.
Why the EU Doesn’t Like Apple
The EU, however, is more interested in Apple’s tax practices. The Union already shut down some tax loopholes, such as the Double Irish, 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.
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?