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LUXEMBOURG: The European Union is on a mission to rein in US tech giants, which have been accused of tax avoidance, stifling competition, raking in billions from news without paying for it and spreading misinformation.

In the past few years, the EU has slapped eye-watering fines on Apple and Google in tax and competition cases, and drawn up a landmark law to curb the market dominance of Big Tech. Brussels has also toughened its code of conduct on disinformation and hate speech.

As a European court on Wednesday rejected Google’s appeal against a 4.3-billion-euro antitrust fine ($5 billion at the time it was levied), we look at the battle between Brussels and Silicon Valley:

STIFLING COMPETITION

The digital giants are regularly criticised for dominating markets by elbowing out rivals.

In July, the European Parliament adopted the Digital Markets Act to curb the market dominance of Big Tech, with violations punishable with fines of up to 10 percent of a company’s annual global sales.

Brussels has slapped over eight billion euros in fines on Google alone for abusing its dominant market position.

In 2018, the company was fined 4.3 billion euros — the biggest ever antitrust penalty imposed by the EU — for abusing the dominant position of its Android mobile operating system to promote Google’s search engine.

Google lost its appeal against that decision on Wednesday, though the fine was reduced to 4.1 billion euros.

The firm is also challenging a 2.4-billion-euro fine from 2017 for abusing its power in online shopping and a separate 1.5-billion-euro fine from 2019 for “abusive practices” in online advertising.

The EU has also gone after Apple, accusing it of blocking rivals from its contactless iPhone payment system, and fined Microsoft 561 million euros in 2013 for imposing its search engine Internet Explorer on users of Windows 7.

Italy joined in the action last year, hitting Amazon with a 1.1-billion-euro antitrust fine for abusing its dominance to push its logistics business.

TAXATION

The EU has had less success in getting US tech companies to pay more taxes in Europe, where they are accused of funnelling profits into low-tax economies like Ireland and Luxembourg.

In one of the most notorious cases, the European Commission in 2016 found that Ireland granted illegal tax benefits to Apple and ordered the company pay 13 billion euros in back taxes.

But the EU’s General Court later overturned the ruling, saying there was no evidence the company broke the rules.

The Commission also lost a similar case involving Amazon, which it had ordered to repay 250 million euros in back taxes to Luxembourg.

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