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Tech firms accumulate billions in fines, remain unsettled

AFP – Rarely a month goes by without big tech companies getting fined for price fixing, squashing competitors or misusing data, but it can take years before they pay a penny.

Ireland’s data regulator confirmed that Meta has not paid any of the EUR2 billion (USD2.2 billion) in fines issued since last September. TikTok also owes hundreds of millions.

Amazon is still appealing against a EUR746 million fine from 2021, Luxembourg’s data regulator told AFP.

Google is still disputing European Union (EU) fines worth more than EUR8 billion for abusing its market position between 2017 and 2019.

Apple has fought for years against a French antitrust fine of EUR1.1 billion and an order to pay EUR13 billion of tax to Ireland.

ABOVE & BELOW: Apple store in Beijing, Amazon logo in Paris, France; and Meta logo outside office in United States. PHOTO: AP & AFP

The problem is constant, global and involves tech companies of all sizes, not just the big four.

This week Australia confirmed that X (formerly Twitter) had not paid a fine imposed for failing to outline its plans to stamp out content depicting abuse – though X is now counter-suing.

Critics say fining tech companies does not stop their bad behaviour and it is time for more drastic action. Researcher Margarida Silva at Dutch non-governmental organisation the Centre for Research on Multinationals, pointed out that tech firms have long revelled in their reputation for disruption.

“Not paying the fines fits in with the way we’ve seen big tech companies challenge pretty much any enforcement of rules against them,” said Silva.

“Even if the company ultimately loses, by that point they will have dragged the administration through years and years of expenditure.”

This sets tech apart from industries like finance, she argued, where there is still an incentive to pay to reassure the public and investors.

But lawyer Romain Rard at Gide Loyrette Nouel in Paris, said it was common sense that firms would look to appeal big penalties.

“It’s not as if companies can just ignore the fine, challenge decisions and hope for the best that they can get away without having to pay anything,” he told AFP.