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Apple and Big Tech companies to face increased European regulation

Apple's Irish headquarters

The European Commission's antitrust head, Margrethe Vestager, fined Apple billions, and plans tighter tech regulation as she takes up a second five-year term.

Apple's $14 billion tax bill in Ireland was ultimately the decision of one person, Margrethe Vestager, who has been head of the European Commission's antitrust division for five years. In a rare move for the EC, she has been signed on to continue in the role for a further five years. And she promises increased regulation, investigation and, when necessary, punishment of big tech companies.

"In the last five years, some of the darker sides of digital technologies have become visible," she told the New York Times.

Most recently, Vestager has spoken of investigating concerns over Apple Pay and competition. And she points to issues such as the complaints Spotify has taken to the EC about Apple Music.

"Some of these platforms, they have the role both as player and referee, and how can that be fair?" she said. "You would never accept a football match where the one team was also being the referee."

While she heads the EC's division, and so represents all of the member countries of the European Union, she has to get universal agreement from them to implement new regulations. At present, she's working to both speed up processes and implement what are called "interim measures" too. This sees companies being issued cease-and-desist orders as soon as an investigation is begun.

One issue Vestager will be key to is the European Union's new Digital Services Act, which aims to prevent internet sites spreading false information and hate speech on services such as Facebook.

"You have to take it down because it spreads like a virus," she told NYT. "But if it's not fast enough, of course, eventually we will have to regulate this."

Vestager does not, however, see regulation as a way to hamper US firms and benefit European ones.

"One of the main reasons that U.S. tech companies are popular in Europe is that their products are good," she said.

However, she says that Europe does not necessarily agree with how the US and others have what NYT described as wide-open technology polices. She also says that she and Europe have to step in when companies "cut corners."

"Market forces are more than welcome, but we do not leave it to market forces to have the final say," she continued. "Markets are not perfect."