EU Regulators Gain Regulating Clout With U.S. Tech Companies

Brussels, where the European Union is primarily based, is becoming a mecca for U.S. tech firms to plead their cases. That’s because the EU has taken a hard stance on issues of antitrust and privacy among others, becoming the world’s first regulator to confront Google on antitrust charges… twice. The unintended result is that U.S. tech companies are now hiring full-time lobbyists to protect their interests. And aggrieved U.S. firms go there to lodge complaints that might otherwise have gone to the Federal Trade Commission.

news_02_smallAccording to The Wall Street Journal, the Internet battles playing out in Brussels could impact the way the Internet evolves, even for companies across the Atlantic. “Brussels is the most important place in the world from a tech policy standpoint,” says Yelp executive Luther Lowe, whose company appointed a full-time lobbyist in that city and filed a complaint about Google’s search with the EU.

Since the EU has targeted suits against Google, that company has “more than doubled its outlays on lobbying of EU institutions last year from 2013,” says WSJ. Not only has the EU launched a second antitrust suit over its Android mobile-operating system, but also charged Google with manipulating results to favor its own comparison-shopping service. EU regulators have also demanded that Google change how its search engine functions.

The EU has also launched antitrust inquiries into Amazon and Qualcomm, is examining Amazon and Apple’s tax records, and is establishing a data privacy policy certain to be tough.

In response, U.S. tech companies — including Google, Microsoft and IBM — have a bigger presence in Brussels; Transparency International has compiled data that shows these three U.S. companies are “among the top 10 companies in Brussels by the number of high-level meetings with the EU’s executive branch since December.”

The EU’s tough stance has also encouraged U.S. companies to confront their U.S. competitors in Brussels. Getty Images’ general counsel John Lapham has visited Brussels twice this year to complain that Google favors its own image-search service over competitors.

“Brussels is the only spot on the planet right now that has the willpower to stand up to Google,” says Lapham.