Germany seeks to curb Internet giants’ dominance

  • TECH
  • Wednesday, 05 Sep 2018

German Economic Affairs and Energy Federal Minister Peter Altmaier addresses the media in Berlin, Germany, July 17, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

BERLIN: Germany, seeking to rein in internet giants like Google and Facebook, plans to bolster the powers of its competition watchdog to prevent such companies from becoming monopolies even before they achieve scale.

The initiative, announced on Sept 4, could include blocking big players from taking over smaller rivals and follows up on a pledge by Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition to curb big US Internet companies which, in the eyes of many German lawmakers, have become too powerful.

“My goal is to make our competition law more effective,” said Economy Minister Peter Altmaier.

“In doing so we must find the right balance between the growth chances of German and European platforms and preventing the abuse of market power.”

A 173-page study commissioned by Altmaier calls for the German antitrust regulator to be given powers to act before a company reaches a critical 'tipping point' on the way to becoming a monopoly - something that can happen quickly on the Internet due to the way it functions as a network.

This could, for example, include cracking down on attempts to prevent 'multihoming', where a platform company requires its business partners to work exclusively with it, but not with any of its competitors.

In a second proposal, the study's authors argue that the regulator should be able to stop big players from taking over smaller rivals as part of a strategy to sideline competitors.

Looking back

That reflects a widely held view among German policymakers that European regulators should never have waved through Facebook's takeover of photo-sharing site Instagram in 2012, and of messaging application WhatsApp two years later.

Between them, the Facebook 'family' of social networking apps now counts 2.5 billion users. Germany, Europe's largest economy, has yet to produce an internet company of global scale.

“Looking back, it's not clear that it was the right thing to do to allow those deals,” said Justus Haucap, head of the Duesseldorf Institute for Competition Economics and a co-author of the study.

Germany's antitrust watchdog expects to take action this year in an ongoing probe against Facebook after finding that the social media giant abused its market dominance to gather data on people without their knowledge or consent.

The Federal Cartel Office objects in particular to how Facebook acquires data on people from third-party apps – including WhatsApp and Instagram – and its online tracking of people who aren't even members.

Data for all

The study also proposes a new “data-for-all” law that would require dominant platform companies to share the data that fuels them – an idea already championed by Andrea Nahles, leader of the Social Democrats that co-rule with Merkel.

This would, for example, allow competitors to train their software algorithms to a similar standard to the market leader – thus reopening a monopolised market to competition.

Other lawmakers, meanwhile, argue that dominant platforms should be compelled to open up so that it would be possible, for example, to chat with a friend on a social network without being a member of it – much as email and mobile telephony work today.

This concept, known as interoperability, was not addressed by the study's authors but continues to be supported across party lines in the German parliament.

“We must support an innovative data policy and talk about new ideas – one would be to require interoperability,” said Nadine Schoen, a senior lawmaker in Merkel's conservative party.

Altmaier will now set up a commission to draft reforms to Germany's competition law based on the report's recommendations. – Reuters

Article type: metered
User Type: anonymous web
User Status:
Campaign ID: 1
Cxense type: free
User access status: 3
Subscribe now to our Premium Plan for an ad-free and unlimited reading experience!

Facebook; Google


Next In Tech News

Opinion: How Sam Bankman-Fried exploited the ‘effective altruism’�fad to get rich and con the world
Robot pets help these US seniors make friends
NYPD officers, bystander save man who fell on subway tracks
India regulator asks One 97 Communications unit to reapply for payment aggregator licence
Mercedes-Benz criticized for hiding fast acceleration behind paywall
Catfishing cosmonauts, scamming soldiers: Never fall in love online?
Opinion: Billionaires like Elon Musk, Sam Bankman-Fried didn’t save the world. They wrecked it. Let’s take it back
Elon Musk says Twitter's ban on Trump after Capitol attack was 'grave mistake'
Metaverse is a risk to human social skills, Abba Voyage producer says
South Korean capital launches self-driving bus experiment

Others Also Read