France is reportedly lobbying hard in favour of granting individual European Union member states more power to punish Big Tech when it starts acting a fool.
Companies like Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook were first dealt a blow in December 2020, when the European Commission introduced two pieces of legislation aimed at regulating how to companies are allowed to operate within the EU. The first piece of legislation, known as the Digital Markets Act, limits self-preferencing by companies in, say, app store search results, and the second piece of legislation, known as the Digital Services Act, focuses on the creation of a single set of rules for the EU to hold companies to in an effort to keep users safe online.
According to the Financial Times, it’s that second bit of legislation France is pushing to change. Cedric O, the country’s minister for the digital economy, reportedly met with EU officials in recent weeks to make the case for allowing every individual EU member state the right to fine big tech companies and police the content they deem offensive on the platforms.
“We are getting pretty active in terms of talking to various people about the upcoming tech regulation,” O told the Financial Times. “Getting these laws passed is a major objective of ours for when France next holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council next year. They touch on vitally important subjects both for our economies and democracies.”
Currently, the only countries allowed to enforce the EU’s laws are those where the tech companies are headquartered, which include Ireland and Luxembourg, where Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon are based. The rule change would put that power in the hands of every member state — a change that at least some worry would create a patchwork of liability that would undermine the EU’s single market.
“This would remove one of the first pillars of EU law and it would mean that a company, instead of being subject to one regulator, is subject to 27 authorities,” one person familiar with the discussions told the FT. “It risks fragmenting the single market into a nightmare.”
Separately, France is also advocating for certain definitions to be expanded within the Digital Services Act so that EU members are granted the ability to police “harmful content and disinformation,” rather than just illegal content.
“We think the text needs to be broadened to include other types of problematic content,” O said. “If there is no legal framework there is nothing to stop Twitter or Facebook from censoring speech they do not like.”