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Investors took news of Digital Markets Act in their stride implying scepticism about its impact
Thursday 31 Mar 2022 Author: Tom Sieber

The key questions facing investors as the EU looks to get tough with big tech on anti-competitive practices are two-fold: will the changes make any difference, and will the economic bloc’s more aggressive approach be repeated elsewhere?

The landmark Digital Markets Act, announced by the EU in outline form but still to be approved by the EU Parliament and Council, is intended to curb the power of the so-called ‘gatekeepers’ like Amazon, Apple, Alphabet (Google), Microsoft and Meta Platforms (Facebook).

The criteria for inclusion in this club is a company with a minimum €75 billion market value with at least 45 million monthly users and operating a platform such as a social media site or search engine.

The introduction of the act represents a shift in emphasis from fining exceptionally well-resourced firms for past transgressions to trying to get ahead of anti-competitive practices and privacy violations before they occur.

It will seek to challenge the so-called ‘walled gardens’ where operators have total control over content applications and media, and restrict access for third parties. Instead under the auspices of the act these will have to be opened up to smaller competitors.

For example, someone making a transaction on Apple’s App store will be able to use a third-party payment platform and not be forced to use Apple’s own payment services.

There will also be tighter restrictions on using people’s data for targeted online advertisements and platforms would be prevented from ranking their own products and services higher than those of others. While Apple and Google expressed some concern over aspects of the legislation other gatekeepers kept their counsel.

The market reaction to the announcement was muted despite stringent fines of up of 10% of annual worldwide sales for violations and 20% for repeated infringements.

The scepticism expressed by some smaller technology outfits in Europe in response to the new rules may be justified. After all the big tech firms already have such dominant market positions, huge balance sheets and track records for innovation to allow them to stay ahead of the rule-makers.

What might make shareholders in these businesses really sit up and take notice is if the more aggressive approach adopted by the EU is repeated elsewhere, particularly in the US.

While there have been some signs of a tougher regulatory approach to the tech giants across the Atlantic, the fact these are all US companies may lead to reluctance in Washington to push too hard.

Once the rules have been finalised, they will put to MEPs and EU ministers for approval, with the accompanying Digital Services Act, which will look to clampdown on harmful and illegal user-generated content on online platforms, still to be finalised.

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