Italy’s Antitrust Agency hits Google and Apple with €20 Million Antitrust Fine For “Aggressive Data Practices”

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The Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (AGCM), the Italian antitrust authority, sanctioned the search giant and the iPhone maker €10 million each for what the AGCM called “aggressive data practices,” as per the press release published on the AGCM official website on 26 November 2021.

The two investigations against Apple Distribution International Ltd. and Google Ireland Ltd., conducted by the AGCM, are now closed with an outcome of a maximum allowed sanction under the current legislation, imposing €10 million fine against each tech giant. As per the Italian antitrust authority, the tech giants violated the Consumer Code for their “aggressive practices” associated with collecting and using consumers’ data for commercial purposes and the lack of critical information related to the consumers’ data use and transfer.

For instance, the AGCM explained that in the case of the search giant, Google’s system was set in a way that the consumer accepts the terms of use on the transfer and use of data for commercial purposes upon the account creation. As per the Italian authority, Google’s pre-set acceptance permits the consumer’s data transfer and use without giving a chance to the consumer to change such approval in a later stage. The AGCM found that Google carries its economic activities with the support of the user’s profiling when offering its range of internet-related products and services, including search tools, cloud computing, and online advertising. In Contrast to Google’s practices, the AGCM explains that the iPhone maker doesn’t allow the consumer to decide on granting Apple the permission to collect and use their data. Without even going to the issue of transferring data to third-parties, Apple collects profiles and users’ data for commercial purposes through the company’s devices and associated services use. The antitrust authority finds that Apple’s acquisition architecture is set in such a way that it does not allow the consumer to exercise his freedom of choice on using his data for commercial purposes. Furthermore, the authority explained that Apple might directly draw economic value from such data through promotional activities to promote its products and services, or third-party products and services, on their commercial platforms (iTunes Store, App Store, and Apple Books). Thus, in the case of Apple, the authority highlighted that the consumer is not only deprived of exercising his own will on the use of his data for commercial purposes in addition to undergoing the transfer of his personal information, but he is also “conditioned in the choice of consumption.”

In response to the AGCM decision, Apple stated, “We provide industry-leading transparency and control to all users, so they can choose what information to share or not, and how it’s used.” With regards to Google, the search giant said in a statement to Italian news agencies that it followed “fair and transparent practices to provide users with useful services, as well as provide clear information on their use.” Both companies declared that the regulator’s views were wrong and, therefore, they will appeal the decisions.

Such decisions came after the € 200 million fines imposed by the regulators against Amazon and Apple for restricting certain sellers’ access to Apple products on the eCommerce giant’s platform (Amazon). The increased scrutiny of the regulators against the tech giants is on the rise during the legislative procedure toward adopting the most awaited two-set legislation, which was accepted by the Union’s 27 Ministers on 25 November 2021 and will be taken for negotiations at the European Parliament early next year. The two proposals REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL on a Single Market For Digital Services – amending Directive 2000/31/EC – Digital Services Act (DSA), and its companion the REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL on contestable and fair markets in the digital sector – Digital Markets Act (DMA) are designed to hold the online platforms more responsible for the third parties’ content, create a fairer online playing field, promote transparency and accountability, and ensure safety. The two acts will have a tremendous impact on the Big Five (Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, and Meta). In fact, the DSA tends to harmonize the rules against illicit online content, imposing sanctions against any failure to taking-down unlawful content or blocking sales of counterfeit goods. As for the second act, the DMA is an amendment of the existing competition rules, which will regulate how the Big Five is doing business, handing them a list of specific Do’s and Don’ts on how they carry their activities.

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