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16 January 2020

The Times: Google and Facebook Should Be Reined In But It Hasn’t Happened Yet

Regulators have failed in their efforts to force Google and Facebook to change their behaviour through financial penalties as the tech giants continue to entrench their position, The Times technology business editor said today.

In a comment piece in The Times, Simon Duke said that, despite lawmakers across the globe targeting Google and Facebook over a range of shortcomings, the financial markets continue to back the tech giants because of their “all but impregnable position” in digital advertising.

Mr Duke said: “Regulators have used privacy and antitrust law to curb their powers and spur greater competition. Neither approach has succeeded. All too often, reforms have entrenched their powers. Take Europe’s data privacy laws, known as GDPR.

“The regime was supposed to protect EU citizens from intrusive data harvesting, but Facebook and Google used their superior resources to navigate the upheaval with ease. They continue to scoop up personal information in ways that flout the spirit of GDPR.

“Google’s move to restrict the use of third-party cookies on its Chrome browser, announced this week, could have a similar effect. The plan is to limit how closely publishers and advertisers can track visitors across the web. Yet it is likely to strengthen Google’s own business. The search giant will still be able to amass data from its own properties to target users with adverts.

“Regulators have failed in their efforts to force Google and Facebook to change their behaviour through financial penalties. Facebook was fined $5 billion in the US last summer for privacy violations, but this is pocket change for a company with $50 billion in the bank. Alphabet, with more than $120 billion in cash on its balance sheet, scarcely missed a beat after its European fines.

“As things stand, Facebook and Google constitute an unregulated monopoly over one of the world’s most lucrative industries. Until that changes, they will continue to reap the rewards.”