The European Union moved to force technology giants including Google, Facebook, and Amazon to disclose a number of practices they previously argued were trade secrets, all in a bid to win more transparency for smaller businesses dependent on their services for survival.
The effort materialized in the form of new regulations which the European Parliament approved on Wednesday, seeking to define a 21st-century regulatory platform capable of preventing the world's largest e-commerce services from picking winners and losers in a wide variety of markets and abusing the popularity of their solutions in other ways. The top legislative body of the political bloc described the new initiative as extremely sensitive to innovators and the delicate nature of their work, stating it will do whatever is in its power to protect their activity.
Naturally, what that exactly means in practice remains to be seen as many questions remain open and even when regulators answer such inquiries, detailing regulations and having them enforced are often two different sets of challenges instead of a single, unified one.
In the name of fairness and transparency
The draft is meant to improve both fairness and transparency of e-commerce platforms widely in use across Europe, the regulator said. More than 7,000 firms are estimated to be affected by the incoming change which is still about a year and a half away from enforcement. By most estimates, the rulebook won't be coming into force before early 2021.
Among other things, EU regulators are preparing to target online storefronts and price comparison tools, with the endeavor coming on the heels of three historic antitrust fines sent in Google's direction. While cynics argue the sanctions were but a slap on the tech juggernaut's wrist, they still affected its operations, overwhelmed its legal teams, and set a strong precedent on the EU taking a much tougher stance on antitrust issues in the 21st century, particularly in comparison with the United States.
In short, the regulations are meant to force today's Internet giants to publicly detail some of the systems and policies affecting the manner wherein they feature third-party products and services on their platforms, particularly in regard to how those compare to the treatment received by first-party solutions within the same context. In theory, the two shouldn't be any different but close to $9.5 billion in antitrust fines Google has been given over the last year and a half beg to differ.
More to come
Following this week's development, the Council of the European Union still has to deliver an approval of the initiative's text, after which everyone affected by the new legislature will have exactly one year to start complying with its provisions, which is when the rulebook will enter into force and be published by the EU's Official Journal.
On a related note, the EU financed the creation of an Online Platform Observatory that's now live, having been designed to monitor all markets affected by online commerce platforms and the manner wherein the upcoming rules will be implemented. The watchdog will also have a prominent advisory role in the endeavor, the Parliament confirmed this week.