The European Union Antitrust Commission, headed by Denmark’s Margrethe Vestager, continues its policy against high-tech companies, often accused of tax evasion, monopolistic strategies and user harassment. This time, the target is Facebook, which has been fined €120 million for misleading users at the time of the acquisition of WhatsApp, declaring that it would never use the data of the messaging service in its marketing strategies and sales of advertising space. According to the Commission, this has not happened.
The news, which was announced before the opening bell at Wall Street, provoked a wave of comments on the web, and many analysts bet on the drop of Facebook shares in stock exchange transactions. This forecast was denied by Wall Street, where Facebook shares closed in positive territory.
This is not the first time that Wall Street has commented positively on high-tech giants penalized by decisions issued by the European Antitrust Commission. It has already happened with Microsoft, with Google and Apple, which came under the spotlight of the European institutions and were heavily penalized.
Since the presidency of Mario Monti, the European Antitrust Commission has kept a leading role, in parallel with the development of the digital economy. In 2004, Microsoft was in fact convicted for monopolistic practices with a €479 million fine and the imposition of “releasing” the use of the Windows operating system by the “auxiliary” computer program Media Player. The decision caused an uproar and the outraged reaction of the Redmond-based company. According to Microsoft, it was an undue interference in market policy. Too bad that in the U.S., the Justice Department had initiated similar measures, which led after a few years to a marginalization of the US giant. It has remained one of the leading companies in information technology, but it has lost ground against other companies — Google first of all — partly because of the short-sighted decisions of its management, who saw the online business — search engines and social networks — just as a bubble that sooner or later would be deflated.
Microsoft has tried to recover in Europe, but every time it gained some ground, the European Antitrust Commission intervened again. So far, Microsoft has been fined three more times: in 2006 (€280 million), 2008 (€899 million) and 2013 (€561 million). The prevalent reasons in all three proceedings was the fact that Microsoft made it difficult to use application programs that were not his, or provided inconsistent navigation to other online navigation software different from Internet Explorer.
Even Google has come under investigation: in this case, the charge is dominant use of software on the Android smartphone operating system or for the Google Shopping service. So far, no fine has been issued, but the search engine company was required to provide “in-depth clarification.” Amazon avoided a fine, by incorporating the demands of the Antitrust Commission on his reading devices. However, Amazon and Apple are under the spotlight for fiscal evasion. The practice is so widespread that Margrethe Vestager decided to solicit European Union countries to establish shared and binding rules to stop a high tax evasion.
Although the European Union’s decision did not cause adverse reactions in Wall Street, the Authority’s leadership is trying to rule the market. Beyond the laudable intentions of socialist Margrethe Vestager to safeguard the rights of consumers, there is a risk that the fine to Facebook may become one of the forms of governance to manage the current situation, promoting the consolidation of a status quo. But when it comes to the network, however, it is nothing but a chimera.