THE EUROPEAN UNION is planning new rules for internet firms that would ban them from offering poorer terms to small businesses that use their platforms to promote their products and services.
The ideas have been put forward as the European Commission (EC) goes into its mid-term review of the ongoing Digital Single Market project, the EU's effort to streamline the pan-European marketplace across its 28 members, supposedly to facilitate cross-border online trade.
The EC is planning to examine internet companies' web platforms as part of that review, which will predominantly affect major US internet companies operating in the EU, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and TripAdvisor, due to the paucity of home-grown internet companies of any size.
"It's quite clear to us that the platforms are gatekeepers and in the business-to-business relationships there are a certain number of problems," Jörgen Gren, a senior EU official involved in the initiative, told the Wall Street Journal.
The EC claims that small businesses across the EU are concerned about the high-handed approach such internet giants can have towards minnows. It claims that they have complained about unilateral contract changes, lack of access to sales and customer data, and a lack of transparency over their rankings in search engines, a complaint squarely aimed at Google.
On Wednesday, the EU will also be publishing guidance that, it hopes, will encourage technology companies - ie: Google, Facebook, Twitter and other American companies that flourished under the First Amendment of the US Constitution - to remove what it regards as hate speech and extremist content from their platforms.
On the one hand, while the EU's demands will add to the cost and bureaucratic burden of running platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in the EU, on the other it will also make it markedly more difficulty for start-ups and other rivals to emerge to challenge them - at least in the European Union. µ
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