Europe protects American consumers better than America

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European Union flags fly outside of the Berlaymont building in Brussels, Belgium, the headquarters of the European Commission. (Stuart Chalmers/Flickr)

European Union flags fly outside of the Berlaymont building in Brussels, Belgium, the headquarters of the European Commission. (Stuart Chalmers/Flickr)

Since its divergence from Britain some 250 years ago, the United States has gone down a very different path than its Old World brethren. From sports, to identity, to religion, modern Europe and America don’t see eye to eye. Full disclosure: I generally prefer Europe’s model, although I can usually understand arguments for both sides. However, I have respect for only Europe when it comes to people versus business.

The European Union has aligned itself squarely on the side of consumers when it comes to this. Last year, they pinned Google with antitrust measures after they were found to be promoting their own services in Google searches, hitting the company with a fine of $2.72 billion. Just a few months ago, it was once again Google who was targeted, this time for forcing their services onto other groups manufacturing Android phones. Google is expected to pay $5 billion, although whether this penalty will go into effect is not yet clear.  

As for new rules, many will remember the endless stream of notices from companies stating they’ve updated their privacy settings. This came about as a result of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), an EU rule that keeps companies more honest and responsible when collecting user data. While this is an EU ruling, it is enforced on any group providing a service in Europe, so it serves as a way to regulate international businesses, as well.

These record-setting fines and progressive policies are completely foreign to the United States. Speaking about the digital age again, here in the U.S., the FCC repealed net neutrality. This is almost unanimously considered to be a bad move for consumers. Despite the outspoken objection, though, American policymakers have decided to push forward with the move, even if some states will keep trying to fight it locally.

I am not here to debate the merits of these individual decisions. While the thought of Google getting hit with multi-billion dollar fines for their opportunism in the wild, wild west of the internet does fill me with some righteous indignation, perhaps these amounts are truly unfair given the transgressions. Either way, these differences in policy highlight very different philosophies when it comes to consumer protection. The EU squarely aligns itself with its citizens, while the U.S. tries to appeal time and time again to corporations with deep pockets.

This statement alone does not turn any heads, and indeed it may even seem obvious. I happen to think it is also obvious which system is better, but somehow this single step further is lost to many. In the struggles between people and business, the American government often picks the latter at the request of the people. People are deliberately voting against their own self-interest.

Even removing personal interest, the choice does not make sense. Though consumers are many, they are individually weak. Companies are opportunist by design, and while a local shop may not have deep pockets, many of the large companies that we rely on do. The only powers that consumers have over companies are their own choice and regulation, at least in the EU. In the U.S., it sometimes feels as though there are groups trying to undermine both of these.

From here, the argument can easily be made that the U.S. needs to take a harsher stand against lobbying, or perhaps this could be considered support for Democratic politicians. I fear that the issue runs deeper than any single change, though. It seems that business interests are in the very fabric of the American mindset, and changing this core philosophy is a much larger undertaking, politically and culturally. All I can really do is hope that the EU keeps standing up to corporations; maybe some of their decisions will trickle down to us.


Peter Fenteany is a weekly columnist  for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at peter.fenteany@uconn.edu.

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