Antitrust fines for big tech are pouring in. But then no one pays them

The one imposed on Apple on March 4, 2024 is only the latest of the huge fines that the hi-tech giants are receiving from various national and European regulatory bodies. Fines that governments are clamoring for to fix the budgets of their countries which, however, no one then pays. That's right.

Some examples give a better idea of ​​the situation. Apple, which has just hit the headlines for receiving a record 1.8 billion euro “ticket” from the EU antitrust for violations of competition rules with music streaming services, has been fighting for years in various courts for a French antitrust fine of 1.1 billion euros. To which must be added the order to pay 13 billion euros in taxes to Ireland. The problem is constant, global. Amazon is still appealing a fine of 746 million euros from 2021. But it's not just Apple with its recent 1.8 billion fine on the defendants' bamco. According to what the Reuters agency reports, Google has a 2.42 billion euro “fine” at stake which should be confirmed by the highest European court. The EU Commission had fined the company in 2017 for using its price comparison service to gain an unfair advantage over smaller European rivals.

Bad news also for Microsoft. The EU antitrust regulator said in January that Microsoft's investment of more than $10 billion in OpenAI, maker of ChatGPT, could be subject to EU merger rules. There are some “virtuous” cases. But it is not out of kindness that the fines were paid, rather to silence negative voices that create a bad reputation. In 2019, Facebook paid a record $5 billion fine to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over the Cambridge Analytica scandal. And e-commerce giant Alibaba told investors that in 2021 it immediately paid a record fine of nearly $3 billion to Chinese regulators (who are not joking at all).

Activists argue that these companies are too rich for financial sanctions to have much impact. And there is one fact that is more annoying than others: last year, Big Tech companies (Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta and Microsoft) received approximately $3.04 billion in fines for violating laws on both the shores of the Atlantic. Their turnover for the first seven days of 2024 would be enough to pay them all off.