- European politicians are tackling Big Tech monopoly building with the Digital Markets Act.
- Meta is currently recruiting several senior competition lawyers based in Europe.
- The job postings describe “precedent-setting regulatory investigations” in which Meta expects to be involved.
At a conference in Brussels on Thursday to discuss Europe’s plans to tackle Big Tech monopolies with the Digital Markets Act (DMA), Andreas Mundt, chairman of Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, issued a warning.
“There will be litigation around DMA,” he said. “Companies will challenge the gatekeeper designation. They will challenge the interpretation of the DMA obligations to a large extent. Of course, they will argue that the obligations in some cases are disproportionate.”
The EU struck a deal to pass the Digital Markets Act earlier in March. The new law would, in theory, force Google and Apple to open their app stores; force services like WhatsApp and iMessage to be interoperable with each other; and prevent Google and Meta from using data you use on one of their services to inform targeted advertisements on another of their services.
These changes could rewrite the way big US tech companies do business.
European competition lawyers have a feeling that Meta, Google and Microsoft will fight antitrust regulation line by line.
“Why wouldn’t they? The current system is making them a fortune,” said Tim Cowen, head of antitrust practice at Preiskel & Co.
An Insider analysis indicates that tech companies are already preparing for battle.
Over the past fortnight, Meta has posted nine unique job postings on LinkedIn for corporate lawyers or lobbyists specializing in regulatory litigation or EU competition law, who will be based in one of of the firm’s European hubs. The total number of job openings worldwide in Meta’s legal division increased 36% year over year in the fourth quarter of 2021, according to data from LinkedIn, which did not include data on Meta subsidiaries such as WhatsApp and Oculus. In March, Meta had 111 open jobs listing “advisor” active on LinkedIn.
The social media giant is recruiting at least two senior counsel positions and three associate general counsel, all experienced in competition, regulatory and compliance litigation.
One post, for a director of competition policy in Europe, explicitly mentions working on digital markets law.
Other listings are less explicit, discussing the possibility of joining a “growing legal team” at one of Meta’s European hubs. Two lists of regulatory advisers in Europe describe work on “high-profile and precedent-setting regulatory investigations”.
Of the big five — Meta, Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft — Meta is most openly bolstering its legal compliance and regulatory team in Europe and recruiting for senior positions.
Google has opened 9 associate legal counsel positions in EMEA to work on corporate legal issues and Microsoft is recruiting a new chief lobbyist as well as a senior competition and regulatory affairs lawyer, both based in London. Apple has three open roles for lawyers based in Europe.
Tech companies seek lawyers for both advice and lobbying
According to Bianca Adams-Thomond, legal recruitment specialist at Major, Lindsey & Africa, big tech companies are currently in demand for lawyers who can decipher the impacts of AMD.
“I’ve spoken with a number of large organizations and their general counsel, and I think it’s the unknown, really, of what that actually means,” she said.
EMEA tech companies are showing a keen interest in lawyers who specialize in antitrust matters, but who can also work on lobbying and communications efforts rather than just being “backstage” lawyers.
“Companies, when they’re looking at this, don’t just want to hire lawyers to prepare, but they’re looking at hiring lawyers with, say, a competitive or antitrust bent who can actually play a general role as well,” she said.
The European Commission says it is preparing its own army to tackle tech monopolies. EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton confirmed on Thursday that the new Digital Markets Unit, a new statutory body that will investigate antitrust cases, will hire between 100 and 150 new people for the task.
It will be critical to the success of the DMA that the unit be well resourced. If not, “there is a risk that relevant cases will be dropped,” Mundt of the Federal Cartel Office said in an email exchange with Insider.
The EU crackdown on tech monopolies is a big departure from the past decade of antitrust action, where over the past decade Google – which has come under the most antitrust scrutiny of companies FAAMG – was charged a total sum of $8 billion for faulty practices.
To put that number into context, Alphabet, Google’s parent company, reported a profit of $20.6 billion in the last quarter of 2021 alone.
Critics say European politicians started paying attention to Big Tech’s anti-competitive practices too late. “They [politicians] have no idea what they’re up against,” said John Strand, political consultant and principal of Strand Consulting.
Microsoft’s $69 billion deal with video game Activision Blizzard made headlines in January, but what got less attention was a series of small deals by tech companies, helping them gradually gaining market share. In 2021 alone, Alphabet closed 22 deals, Microsoft had 56 and Amazon had 29 — all decade highs for the companies, CNBC reported. Between 2018 and 2021, Facebook made at least 21 acquisitions.
It’s not so clear that DMA – a cumbersome, untested piece of legislation – is the solution for Europe’s tech landscape.
Some of the DMA’s enforcement mechanisms involve new legal questions, such as whether a tech company is a “gatekeeper” and whether the obligations imposed by the DMA are proportionate.
“Cases can still be complicated and result in lengthy court proceedings,” Mundt said.
“The problem is this: you don’t have a lot of time in the digital economy when the markets are very dynamic,” he added. “Some people think DMA will be self-executing. It tries to be a panacea and I strongly believe it will be a powerful tool.”