How Europe Is Dominating Tech Regulation

The Biden administration has signaled a crackdown on corporate America, but U.S. regulators’ teeth seem to be smaller and blunter than the dentition seen across the pond.

Why it matters: For all U.S. regulators’ bluster on the subject of regulating AI and Big Tech, a lot more is getting done in Europe and the U.K. It’s likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future.

Driving the news: The U.S. Department of Justice welcomed yesterday’s announcement that Adobe was calling off its highly controversial merger with Figma — but the death blow was dealt by antitrust regulators in the EU and U.K.

  • Similarly, the terms of Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision were dictated by U.K. authorities.
  • And the first real AI rules of the road will come from the EU.

Between the lines: For their part, U.S. regulators seem to have much smaller effects on corporate America.

  • Apple is suspending sales of Apple Watch, pending a potential enforcement of a U.S. International Trade Commission ruling from Dec. 26 — but it’s continuing to sell the Apple watch both online and in stores until the last possible day for Christmas gift buying. And if the ruling goes in Apple’s direction, sales will resume almost immediately.
  • While a federal jury has found against Google in an important lawsuit brought by Epic Games, the final outcome of that suit remains distant, and few observers expect it to seriously upend the lucrative app store duopoly of Google and Apple.

The big picture: At the Federal Trade Commission, two major antitrust efforts — one against Meta, the other against Microsoft — have failed ignominiously, raising questions about whether the Biden administration’s antitrust approach is backfiring.

On the flip side: To be fair, the FTC has had some wins. In biotechnology, Illumina’s acquisition of Grail, a manufacturer of gene sequencing machines, was opposed by both the U.S. and the EU — but the U.S. final decision came first, precipitating a formal decision to unwind the deal.

Our thought bubble, via Axios’ Ashley Gold: The EU has been leading on tech policy and competition policy for many years now, and they have a lot more muscle memory and appetite to keep bringing cases and enforcing new laws. Meanwhile, the U.S. still hasn’t been able to pass basic privacy legislation.

  • U.S. courts may be more active than ever on competition and consolidation, but until there are more wins on the board, the EU will continue to lead — with the U.K. also establishing itself as a competition authority to be reckoned with.

The bottom line: The world’s biggest tech companies are American. Geopolitics 101 would suggest that in such a world, U.S. regulators would be unlikely to lead the charge to roll back that dominance.

Courtesy of Felix Salmon and Ashley Gold, Axios (click for full article and story links)