EU chief vows to reign in Big Tech 'leviathans'

Oscar Williams-Grut
·Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
·2-min read
European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen speaks during a debate on the next EU council and last Brexit devlopement during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels on November 25, 2020. (Photo by Olivier HOSLET / POOL / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER HOSLET/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
European Commission president Ursula Von Der Leyen: 'Platforms cannot become the new leviathans.' Photo: Olivier Hoslet/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The head of the European Commission has vowed to create a “level playing field” for Europe’s tech startups by reigning in the power of Big Tech players like Facebook (FB), Google (GOOGL), and Amazon (AMZN).

Ursula von der Leyen said upcoming EU legislation would help to curb the power of US tech giants by giving customers more control over their data and by banning tech companies from boosting their own products at the expense of others.

Speaking at the start of the digital Web Summit conference in Lisbon, von der Leyen said the changes would allow startups to “compete on a level playing field.”

“It shouldn’t matter if they are the first ones on the pitch or newcomers,” she said.

Von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said big tech companies had made life “more bearable” during the pandemic but suggested a small group of companies were amassing too much power.

“Platforms cannot become the new leviathans,” she said.

Von der Leyen didn’t single out any companies by name but said her concerns ranged “from search engines to social media and online stores.”

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The EU has taken an aggressive interventionist approach towards US tech companies in recent years, with multiple competition inquiries and fines levied by the bloc. Last month the EU’s competition investigator launched an investigation into Amazon’s marketplace, accusing the tech giant of using data to unfairly compete against third party sellers on its site.

New legislation will reign in the market dominance of big tech players. In particular, social media giants will be forced to take greater care over the content and adverts hosted on their sites.

“With greater power and social influence should come greater responsibility,” von der Leyen said.

The EU chief said Europe’s tech sector had historically “punched below our weight” in part because of regulatory complexity.

The EU’s upcoming Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act will create “one set of core digital rules” that will apply “from Lisbon to Lapland,” von der Leyen said. The EU hopes the legislation, alongside investment in digital infrastructure, will help drive the creation of more homegrown tech businesses.

“Today more than ever we need visionaries who can think outside the box,” von der Leyen said. “The 2020s can finally be Europe’s digital decade.”

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