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EU Antitrust Chief: Vast Digital Data Collection By A Few Threatens Competition

On Sunday, the New York Times reported comments by the European Union's antitrust chief:

"Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s antitrust chief, warned on Sunday that the collection of a vast amount of users’ data by a small number of tech companies like Google and Facebook could be in violation of the region’s tough competition rules."

The European Union (EU) and the United States are negotiating a new data-sharing arrangement by the January 31, 2016 deadline after the European Court of Justice ruled in October 2015 that Europeans’ sensitive personal information was not adequately protected when transmitted to the United States under the safe harbor agreement. The court ruled the agreement invalid because of access by U.S. government (spy) agencies.

The EU developed its Privacy Directive during the late 1990s to, a) standardize privacy laws across its member countries, b) protect their residents' sensitive personal and financial information as the Internet industry blossomed, and c) define the protections as information is transmitted across country borders. The protections cover online activities such as posting to social networking sites, buying products online, and performing searches at search engine websites. To learn more, read the "US/EU Safe Harbor Agreement: What It Is and What It Says About the Future of Cross Border Data Protection" (Adobe PDF) document by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) from 2003. (The 2003 report is also available here.) To sell their products and services within the EU, companies based in the United States must comply with these privacy regulations.

Reportedly, Vestager said:

"If a few companies control the data you need to cut costs, then you give them the power to drive others out of the market...”

She is not the only one concerned:

"A number of European executives echoed Ms. Vestager’s fears about how a small number of American tech companies could use their large-scale data collection to favor their own services over those of rivals. Among them was Oliver Samwer, the German entrepreneur who co-founded Rocket Internet, one of the region’s most high-profile tech companies."

The EU has several antitrust investigations underway:

"... for example, investigations into Apple’s tax practices in Ireland and has started a wide-ranging inquiry into e-commerce that analysts say could encompass the likes of Amazon, among others. Ms. Vestager also brought antitrust charges against Google last April, saying the search giant had unfairly favored some of its digital services over those of rivals. An announcement in that case is expected in late spring... while a separate European investigation continues into whether Google used Android, its popular mobile software, to unfairly restrict rivals..."

It seems wise for consumers in the United States to pay attention to events and negotiations in Europe to ensure as much competition and privacy as possible.

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