(CN) — Under new proposed European Union rules, tech giants like Facebook and Google could face massive fines if they repeatedly fail to take down content deemed dangerous and break fair competition practices.
The tough new draft legislation was unveiled Tuesday by the European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, and was hailed as a landmark effort to impose a legal framework to the disorder of the digital world. With these proposals, the EU is threatening to levy fines of between 6% and 10% of a company's global revenues for breaking the rules.
A core goal is to rein in the colossal powers of the big American tech companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, whose practices are seen in Europe as stifling European competitors, disregarding the continent's deeply held privacy concerns, operating as untrammeled profit engines and threatening democracy by allowing the spread of hate speech and disinformation. These companies are dominant in Europe just as they are around the globe.
The rules propose a set of criteria tech companies must follow to ensure content deemed harmful and dangerous – such as hate speech and disinformation – is quickly removed. The rules also envision placing restrictions on the data the biggest tech firms collect and forcing them to treat competitors more fairly.
This is the latest, and many say most aggressive, step the EU has taken in recent years to challenge U.S. tech companies, which are increasingly under pressure around the world and even in the United States for allegedly unfair practices stifling competition.
Over the past two months, the U.S. federal government and numerous U.S. states opened antitrust lawsuits against Google and Facebook. The Federal Trade Commission wants Facebook to sell Instagram and WhatsApp.
At a news briefing to unveil the rules in Brussels on Tuesday, Margrethe Vestager, a Danish politician and top EU official who's led the bloc's efforts to fight U.S. tech giants, said the EU is “part of a global conversation about how to balance things because the important thing here is with size comes responsibility.”
The proposed rules have a long way to go before they may be adopted. They will need to be approved by the European Parliament, the EU's directly elected body, and the European Council, an EU policy-making institution made up of national leaders. During that process, the rules could undergo major revisions and languish entirely.
Vestager said the fastest the rules could be made into law would be a year and a half. Others, though, predict it could take much longer for such a broad set of groundbreaking proposals to be approved.
Still, many see the rules as a potential game changer.
“I think they will have the potential to change the internet,” said Tiemo Wolken, a German Social Democratic member of the European Parliament, on Deutsche Welle, a German broadcaster.
He said the legislation finally provides “clear rules” to force platforms to moderate content and protect internet users. He said the proposed huge fines could also “change the behavior of big platforms.”
He said the European Commission's previous efforts to sue tech companies and levy fines for unfair competition practices have proven to take too long and yielded mixed results. By comparison, he had high hopes for this new legislative tactic.
The responses from the U.S. tech companies and business interests were largely negative, though Facebook said the EU was “on the right track to help preserve what is good about the internet.” Facebook is under immense pressure to do more to protect users' data and remove content deemed dangerous on its social media platforms.
Google said in a statement that the proposals “appear to specifically target a handful of companies and make it harder to develop new products to support small businesses in Europe.”