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Facebook threatens Europe with fewer features due to fragmented regulation

Facebook threatens Europe with fewer features due to fragmented regulation


The complaint about regulatory fragmentation is a valid one, even if the threat is overstated

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Open up your salmon-pink copy of the Financial Times today and within the Opinion section you'll find a strident critique of European regulation from Facebook's chief of public policy, Richard Allan. There's sadly nothing unusual about the rift between big American companies and the European regulators trying to keep them in check, but the tenor of this complaint is slightly different.

Not merely bemoaning excess regulation, Facebook expresses unhappiness at the fragmented and inconsistent sets of requirements it has to abide by in each country. It's presently subject to various investigations in countries like the Netherlands and Germany, which Allan describes as "overlapping" and rehashing the "months of demanding, technical audits" that Facebook already underwent when it set itself up in Ireland. He believes that operating as a pan-European business should be done subject to one coherent set of pan-European rules instead of having to "comply with 28 independently shifting national variants." And you know what? He's absolutely right.

"Tear down the barriers that keep people apart and you make life more fruitful."

There's some inevitable scaremongering and exaggeration in Allan's FT opinion piece, which claims national regulation "could stop startups before they even really get started" and force Facebook to roll out new features more slowly "or not at all." Still, the crux of Facebook's argument is indisputable and a chronic problem for Europe's common market: without a harmonized regulatory regime, businesses operating in Europe really do face extra expenses and difficulties than their American counterparts.

European authorities aren't waiting for Facebook to tell them they're in need of greater harmonization, though. The first pillar of the EU's Digital Agenda for 2020 is titled the Single Digital Market, and the goal it embodies is precisely what Facebook is seeking: a consistent business environment across member states. That doesn't mean Facebook will be happy with the eventual outcome, as Europe might collectively agree to institute greater demands for user privacy and company transparency, but it would address the fragmentation issue that's the topic of today's complaint.