FOSDEM: How the EU will act against the cloud monopolies

The wheels of the bureaucracy grind slowly – this also applies in the EU. In the meantime, however, the legislative giant has woken up from its hibernation and has realized that the de facto monopolies of US tech companies are threatening the freedom of EU citizens. How the EU is preparing to end this imbalance between the two sides of the Atlantic, explained Vittorio Bertola, from the German software company Open-Xchange, in a lecture at the open source developer conference FOSDEM, which is taking place completely digitally this year.

The problem is well known, according to Bertola: The cloud is dominated by a few companies, which would thereby gain far too much power over the digital lives of billions of people – and also withhold a lot of money from the EU in tax revenue. Because although five of the five most profitable companies in the world are tech companies from Silicon Valley, they used creative tax tricks to ensure that they hardly have to pay taxes in the EU, even if they earn billions of euros every year. The EU does not want to miss this money in the future.

To make matters worse, says Bertola, there have been many voices in the EU in recent months that consider it unacceptable that Apple and Google, with their contact tracing framework to combat COVID, completely bypass local governments to create a digital system Have established civil protection. The blocking of Donald Trump, you may think what you want of the person, had also contributed to intense skepticism towards the big tech companies from the USA – not least among Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Now political forces in the EU want to take action against this dominance in the cloud with three bills: the Digital Services Act, the Digital Markets Act and the Data Governance Act. The first law is primarily about expanding the rights that apply to EU citizens under the GDPR – so that the GDPR is applicable worldwide, not just for companies that have a branch in the EU. The Digital Markets Act is aimed primarily against large online retailers such as Amazon, and is intended to oblige them to interoperability and prevent tech companies from taking over entire market segments with their market power and suppressing competitors.

Caption: Vittorio Bertola in conversation with the FOSDEM organizers during the question-and-answer session for his lecture.

(Image: Fabian A. Scherschel)

And the Data Governance Act aims to facilitate the open exchange of data. The law aims to combat a phenomenon that Bertola calls “Hotel California”: the lock-in of users who cannot take their data with them when they want to switch to another social network, for example. The name Hotel California comes from the refrain of the famous song of the Eagles (“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”) and describes that it is practically impossible for normal people to get out of the data silos of Facebook and Google escape. Here, too, operators, especially the large tech companies, are to be forced into technical interoperability in order to counteract this.

Bertola believes that these planned laws could be entirely in the interests of the open source community. Because open source software development thrives on interoperability and free competition. In the past, large tech companies have repeatedly used vendor lock-in and anti-competitive measures to hinder open source development or make it entirely impossible. The Microsoft of the late ’90s and early 2000s is a good example. Open source developers would have to prevent this from happening again. That is why these laws are worth taking a closer look at and, in case of doubt, being supported. Corresponding legislative initiatives by the EU are therefore to be welcomed – at least that is the conclusion of Bertola’s lecture.


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