Is Ireland Too Economically Dependent On Big Tech To Regulate It Properly?

By Stephen Beard, Marketplace

A long-simmering row between Ireland and the European Union over the regulation of Big Tech has just boiled over amid allegations that the Irish authorities have been giving an easy ride to the giant tech companies based in their territory. 

The European Data Protection Board in Brussels, which oversees the Irish Data Protection Commission, has criticized the DPC and urged it to deepen its investigation into the alleged misuse of personal data by Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. The DPC has responded by saying it will sue the EDPB for “overreaching” its authority.

This is just the latest in a long series of battles between the EU and Big Tech over issues like competition, taxation and privacy, with Ireland — as the largest hub for Big Tech companies in the EU — taking most of the flak.

“We have a very long and ongoing problem with Ireland,” said Max Schrems, an Austrian lawyer and data protection activist who co-founded the privacy campaign group NOYB, which stands for None of Your Business. “Ireland is one of the tax-avoiding safe havens for big companies in Europe, and that includes regulatory matters.”

Ireland has the primary responsibility for regulating tech across the EU when it comes to data protection. Schrems alleges that Ireland has failed to do its job, through fear of upsetting Big Tech.MarketplaceHosted by Kai Ryssdal

“They got just very dependent on these companies, and it makes it really complicated to enforce fundamental rights in Europe any more,” he said.

Johnny Ryan of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties is also highly critical of Ireland’s regulatory efforts.

“The object of Europe’s landmark law — the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation]— was to finally stop the data free-for-all within and between these companies, and that law put the onus on Ireland’s authority — the DPC — to police it,” Ryan said. “But in my view, it’s the DPC that is paralyzing Europe’s enforcement against Big Tech. It’s isolated in Europe. There’s clearly a problem at the commission.”

The commission turned down Marketplace’s request for an interview on the grounds that these issues “are before the courts or soon to before the courts.” The Irish government has also refused to comment. And so has IDA Ireland, the agency that’s been responsible for attracting foreign direct investment, as well as the main business organization for the sector, Technology Ireland. This is clearly a sensitive issue. 

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