From Chargers To Children’s Data: How The EU Reined In Big Tech

A USB-C charger (R) and a traditional Apple Lightning charger (L) are seen on an Apple iPhone with Lightning port above an Android phone with a USB-C port on September 11, 2023 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)

The European Union will have left its stamp on Apple’s flagship product when it debuts its next iPhone on Tuesday.

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After the EU mandated manufacturers to adopt a single connection, the iPhone 15 is rumored to have a USB-C charger rather than Apple’s normal Lightning charger.

Brussels said this would make customers’ lives easier and reduce waste.

Apple vigorously opposed the 2022 law, claiming it would penalize innovation. However, the EU’s 27 member states comprise the world’s largest single market, and Brussels has big tech on its radar.

The common charger is not the EU’s only bruising victory over big tech, and Brussels hopes it will win on other fronts in the coming weeks and months.

Here are some of the ways the EU has compelled digital behemoths to play by new rules in Europe and elsewhere:

‘Digital rulebook’ 

The landmark Digital Services Act (DSA) and its sibling legislation, the Digital Markets Act (DMA), are the most recent and significant attempts to rein in digital giants.

The DSA requests that companies tighten down on harmful and illegal internet content and examine the risks their platforms bring to society.

Any corporation that violates the DSA faces a fine of up to 6% of its annual global turnover.

According to the guidelines, 19 “very large” online platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, X (previously known as Twitter), and YouTube, had until late August to comply with the DSA.

All platforms will be forced to comply by February 2024.

The large sites mentioned have already implemented modifications, such as prohibiting targeted advertising to youngsters and presenting users with a non-personalised feed.

The changes do not stop with the European Union. Snapchat announced that it would prohibit tailored advertising to minors in the United Kingdom as well.

“There’s a process of gradual change in the way these platforms do things that is going to be started, but it’s not going to be an overnight change,” said Sally Broughton Micova of the Centre on Regulation in Europe think tank.

The DMA is yet another pain in the side of tech companies, particularly Apple. The law tries to make the market more equitable by reducing the dominance of specific firms.

The EU identified six “gatekeepers”: Alphabet’s Google, Amazon, Apple, Meta’s Facebook, Microsoft, and ByteDance’s TikTok. The rules go into effect in March 2024.

It may bring one of the most significant changes to Apple’s ecosystem, which is dominated by its App Store. Apple will be forced to allow third-party app shops as a result of the DMA.

“The DMA will really have an impact on how they design their structures,” an EU official said.

Companies will also have to make it easier for users to send messages between apps.

But the changes come with a price. Meta’s new Twitter-like platform Threads has not been rolled out in the EU yet because of the bloc’s rules.

Data protection

The massive General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect in 2018 and was the EU’s hardest and most famous tech law, requiring citizens to consent to how their data is used.

There has been a wave of fines for violations.

In May, the Irish privacy watchdog handed the biggest ever individual fine of 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) to Meta over its transfers of personal data between Europe and the United States.

The GDPR’s impact has also been felt beyond Europe.

“Businesses hardly looked for EU-only solutions because if you are on the global market, you offer that immediately to all so consumers elsewhere can benefit from more privacy,” the EU official said.

The future is AI 

The EU’s latest tech target is artificial intelligence after the chatbot ChatGPT showcased the technology’s rapid developments last year.

Brussels hopes to green light an all-encompassing law on AI by the end of 2023.

“The AI act may be the even more daring thing to do,” the EU official said, adding the challenge was even bigger for the EU than the DSA or DMA.

The official also pointed to the Data Act focused on sharing industrial data, which is expected to come into force in 2025.

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