Mark Zuckerberg’s Europe trip won’t be a vacation

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg heads to Europe.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg heads to Europe.
Image: REUTERS/Erin Scott
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Mark Zuckerberg is taking a EuroTrip, but it’s no holiday.

The Facebook CEO is in Munich today, expected to welcome tax reform on tech companies in a speech, even if it means his firm has to pay more. On Monday, Zuck will meet with top EU digital authorities two days before they present their plan to rein in US and Chinese tech giants.

Big Tech’s years of flying below the regulatory radar are over. Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet, and Facebook are the most valuable publicly traded companies in the world, in that order, worth well over $5 trillion collectively. Now they are being investigated worldwide for anticompetitive practices.

This week, the US Federal Trade Commission ordered these five firms to provide information on their past decade of acquisitions. Meanwhile, Google went to EU General Court to appeal a €2.4 billion (about $2.6 billion) fine imposed on it by Brussels in 2017 for unfairly demoting competitors in shopping searches. In a twist, one judge hearing the company out suggested the fine should have been even higher.

While Google is still haggling over the two-year-old fine (equal to just 2.5% of its revenue that year), European regulators have broadly shifted the thrust of their competitive inquiries from rankings to data.

Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s digital and competition chief, is at various stages of examining Amazon, Google, and Facebook for their data practices, including the question of whether these companies use the data they collect from third parties to develop competing products. Vestager and fellow EU commissioner Thierry Breton are expected next week to share details on a so-called digital single market, designed to boost European firms by breaking Big Tech’s viselike grip on the data economy.

What better time, then, for Zuckerberg to pay a visit to Europe? The eyes of Vestager and other global antitrust regulators are on him regardless. He may as well seek an audience.

This essay was originally published in the weekend edition of the Quartz Daily Brief newsletter. Sign up for it here.