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Europe stays on the offensive with new probe into US tech giants

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Google, Amazon, Skype, WhatsApp, and Netflix are all on notice

The European Union is preparing to carry out a wide-ranging probe into US tech companies such as Amazon and Google, reports the Financial Times. This "comprehensive assessment" is part of a draft plan to establish the EU's single digital market — a unified set of regulations for the digital world, that would cover everything from streaming services to telecoms. While the FT reports that a probe into US companies is currently part of this plan, the draft itself has yet to be approved by the European Commission, which will examine the proposals next week.

While this probe would be separate to the antitrust investigation leveled at Google earlier this month, it appears to cover similar ground —  including, for example, an investigation into how companies list search results, including the place of paid-for links and ads. New topics of inquiry include examining how US companies handle customer data, and the ease with which they let users switch services.

the EU might apply rules for old media to upstarts like Netflix and WhatsApp

The draft also includes plans to "review" whether or not streaming services like Netflix should be subject to the same rules as traditional broadcasters. The commission reportedly believes that these services can be "subject to lower obligations" than TV companies, and holds similar ambitions to apply the same rules for traditional telecoms to services like WhatsApp and Skype. In addition, the commission also wants to iron out differences in copyright law between EU member states, allowing "cross border access to legally purchased online services" and creating "full portability of legally acquired content."

If the probe is given the go-ahead, it would become the latest example of the EU's combative attitude towards US tech giants. In recent months, criticism of US companies has intensified both within the EU and from European politicians. In February, Barack Obama responded by accusing the EU of protectionism, arguing that it was attacking US tech companies because it simply "can't compete." The EU, meanwhile, argues that the single digital market is about protecting consumers and boosting the digital industries in Europe.