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EU Regulators Have a New Plan to Keep Google and Facebook in Line: Regulate Them Like Traditional Telecoms

July 5, 2018, 11:08 AM UTC

The hits keep coming. Email and messaging providers such as Google and Facebook (FB) should be regulated like traditional telecoms, the head of Germany’s network agency told the Financial Times yesterday.

“What we are seeing is that the line between traditional telecommunications services and webbased services like Gmail and WhatsApp has become very blurred. Users often cannot see any difference at all,” Jochen Homann told FT. “It cannot be right that a company providing traditional telecommunications services has to meet certain regulatory requirements, like those concerning data protection, while a company providing comparable services over the web does not.”

If Google (GOOGL) is deemed a telecoms provider, which Germany has been pushing for since 2012, it would become subject to wide swaths of regulations on data security and have to increase its transparency. The European Court of Justice is still considering what Homann considers a test case that could lead to wider regulations for tech giants.

Privacy matters

In the wake of Europe’s sweeping new privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR, American tech companies have been scrambling to keep up. The new European rules require companies to obtain real informed consent from users on how their data will be used, and allow users to opt out or request their data at any time.

In the Wild West that is Silicon Valley, tech companies have long played fast and loose with users’ data. That doesn’t fly in Europe, where expectations of privacy are more solidified, and local tech industry feels overshadowed by the American giants. Homann said part of his quest is to create a level playing field for European companies.

The threat of fines for violating GDPR — up to €20 million or 4% of annual global revenue — have led many companies, including Facebook, to simply apply GDPR standards to all users. California signed a new privacy measure into law this month, to the ire of its homegrown tech companies, though it doesn’t go into effect until 2020.