German telecoms regulator targets tech giants | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 05.07.2018
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German telecoms regulator targets tech giants

If Europe is the main region of the so-called 'techlash,' then Germany is its capital. The country's Federal Network Agency is currently locked in a legal battle with Google and according to its boss, it means business.

The head of Germany's telecoms regulator has said in an interview that tech giants such as Google and Facebook need to be regulated like ordinary telecommunications companies.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Jochen Homann, president of Germany's Federal Network Agency (BNetzA), made it clear that the outcome of an ongoing legal case between the agency and Google would determine their policy in future towards other tech giants such as Facebook, Apple and Amazon.

"What we are seeing is that the line between traditional telecommunications services and web-based services like Gmail and WhatsApp has become very blurred. Users often cannot see any difference at all," he said.

Since 2014, the Federal Network Agency has been involved in legal proceedings against Google, after it ordered the US company to register its Gmail service as a telecommunications operator. Such a status would subject Google to a raft of regulatory requirements in areas such as data protection. The case is currently before the European Court of Justice.

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Time for a tech rethink in Europe?

"It cannot be right that a company providing traditional telecommunications services has to meet certain regulatory requirements, like those concerning data protection, while a company providing comparable services over the web does not,” he added. 

Darlings no more

Tech giants such as Google and Facebook have faced increased levels of scrutiny and criticism in recent times, particularly from regulatory bodies in Europe such as the European Commission, which has criticised the tech giants on a range of issues from tax to data protection.

Read more: Who needs privacy anyway?

The Federal Network Agency has been a particular thorn in their side, and Homann said in the interview that should the agency win the case in Europe, they will pursue a further regulatory clampdown on other major tech players.

"We want European companies to have a level playing field when it comes to data protection, public safety and registration requirements. That would apply to messaging services such as WhatsApp, Facebook and all the others that offer similar services," he said. 

"We have shown the way forward. We want these companies to meet the same regulatory requirements in principle as conventional telecommunications companies, for example when it comes to messaging services," Mr Homann said. "Companies should be aware of the direction we are going in."

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