Drop in APAC regulatory action against Big Tech may be temporary reprieve – Analytics

Breaking News 9 May

Drop in APAC regulatory action against Big Tech may be temporary reprieve – Analytics

A drop in the number of Asia-Pacific antitrust regulatory actions against the Big Four technology firms in the past 18 months should be weighed against several regions’ intense lobbying efforts for heightened regulatory powers and some “planned” investigations.  

PaRR analytics traced enforcement actions taken by APAC competition authorities against the four technology giants – Google, Apple, Meta (formerly Facebook), and Amazon  since 2016 when regional regulators picked up on the antitrust enforcement trend against Big Tech. 

A total of 41 public enforcement actions – including several market inquiries and studies – kicked off over the past seven years, based on a review of antitrust agency announcements and news reports. This data does not include “planned” enforcement actions that do not yet appear to be underway.    

Activity peaked in 2020 when a total of nine actions were disclosed.  

The chart below identifies 40 cases but excludes the Taiwan Fair Trade Commission (TFTC)’s investigation into Apple’s mobile payment service, for which the action start date could not be determined.

Google, the most scrutinized target, has been subject to almost half (19) of the enforcement actions.  

Meta, in contrast to the US where it is rarely out of the regulatory headlines, has attracted the least attention from competition authorities in APAC. There has been only one investigation against the social media giant. This was initiated by the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) in 2021 over suspected abuse of market power in digital advertisement agreement with local app developers.  

India most active

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has been the most active agency. It has targeted Big Tech with 10 investigations relating to abusive conduct in various markets since 2016. It is worth noting that the CCI also launched two investigations against Google prior to that: one was against Google Search in 2012 and resulted in a INR 1.36bn (USD 18.5m) fine; another in 2014 investigated Google’s online advertising service AdWords but was eventually dropped in 2018.  

The Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC), TFTC and KFTC have also been particularly active with nine, eight and seven enforcement actions respectively over the years.  

The Australian competition authority (ACCC), although one of the most vocal advocates in the region for ex-ante rules to regulate the digital space, has only carried out two probes – one into Google and one into Apple – as well as several market inquiries.  

Meanwhile, mainland China’s antitrust regulator has largely left the international tech giants alone. The Chinese authority is responsible for only three of the 41 investigations – two against Apple and one against Google. This is likely because the Chinese authorities have cracked down on their domestic tech giants in recent years and the services offered by the international players are largely unavailable in the region.   

Indonesia’s Competition Commission (ICC) is so far the only competition watchdog in Southeast Asia that has initiated a dedicated probe into any of the Big Four. The regulator opened an investigation last year against Google over suspected abuse of dominance and unfair practice tied to its payment services for Play Store.  

Since 2016, 22 out of the 41 actions have concluded. Five investigations resulted in fines as shown in the following table.  

Some of the five cases have been appealed.  

Four cases in Japan – two against Amazon and two against Apple – and the KFTC’s examination of Apple’s commission policy, led the platform operators proposing commitments to the agencies.  

Year-to-date only one regulator has launched an action against the Big Four: the TFTC’s probe of Google’s keyword advertising business.  

Regulators regroup?

Although the number of public enforcement actions against the Big Four showed a decline after 2020 with just five cases last year, it does not necessary signal regulators are losing interest.  

The JFTC has reportedly said in the past six months it plans to conduct fact finding surveys of news distribution by online platforms (including Google), and of the smart TV market to examine if Amazon and Google are abusing their superior bargaining positions in the relevant market.  

Australia’s regulator and the Indian government are working on developing dedicated regulation governing digital players. 

The KFTC made clear in its 2023 enforcement plan its determination to actively monitor and pursue actions against tech firms over abusive behaviours. And the Competition Commission of Hong Kong said last year that the agency was ready to take up more complex cases in the digital sectors.  

These developments would suggest that the recent slump in enforcement activity may simply reflect a pause as APAC antitrust agencies regroup.  

Disclaimer: this analysis, including the year in which each action began, is based on a combination of agency announcements, PaRR intelligence and available news reports.

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