Roughly nine months after Google's parent company Alphabet was slapped with a 2.4 billion euro fine for "abusing its dominance in search," Brussels bureaucrats are reportedly preparing to take things a step further and unleash Europe-wide regulations for search engines and other online platforms and apps. According to the Financial Times, which broke the story, the regulations are meant to protect companies that rely on Google, Apple or Amazon to sell their services or products.
European policymakers have been exploring ways to target "harmful" trade practices as many small firms in the region have complained that tech behemoths like Google have skewed search results to favor its own services over the services of its competitors. The issue has so far been left for members states to deal with. Of the largest European states, France has distinguished itself as among the most aggressive in trying to push back against the US-domiciled tech giants and their allegedly anti-competitive tendencies.
The regulations are also notable in that they represent the most stringent rules governing search engines' behavior by a developed Western power.
Case in point: Earlier today, the French government warned that it could take legal action against Google and Apple over their "abusive" business practices.
"I believe in an economy based on justice and I will take Google and Apple before the Paris Commercial Court for abusive business practices" against French start-ups, said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on a local radio program.
"I consider that Google and Apple, as powerful as they are, shouldn't treat our start-ups and our developers in the way they do today," said Le Maire, calling the situation "unacceptable".
The news didn't have much of an impact on shares of Google, Apple or their megacap-tech brethren.
The EU’s strike against what it refers to as "online intermediation services" was delayed in December so it could be tweaked to cover search engines, according to the FT, which obtained a draft of the regulations.
"Online intermediation services can hold superior bargaining power over their business users, enabling them to behave unilaterally in a way that is capable of harming the businesses using them," the draft says, adding that search engine rankings are also potentially unfair and capable of causing economically significant harm."
Under the new rules, tech companies would be required to supply companies with more information about how their ranking algorithms work. They also would need to provide a formal complaint to any company or app if Google decides to demote or de-list them from its search results.
While these regulations have reportedly been in the works for months - and aren't entirely unexpected - the timing of Wednesday's leak is notable. Given that a draft of the rules was quietly leaked to the FT, it could be construed as a tacit warning to the US: The European Union has more than one way to respond to US protectionism.