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Editorial: Time to address IT giants’ control over global data

  • November 7, 2018
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

A handful of colossal companies worldwide are controlling huge amounts of data, and this situation needs addressing. But how?


The Japanese government tried to answer this question in its latest report on stepping up regulatory control over information technology giants with overwhelming control of markets — namely, the four American companies of Google Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook Inc. and Inc.


Their oligopoly has advanced to the current state in part because of some characteristics of the internet business — the larger a provider becomes, the more convenient it becomes and attracts more users. As a result, big companies have the potential to reap excessive profits from users, leveraging their dominant positions in the market.


This potential for abuse may affect personal information protection. IT giants collect massive amounts of data by offering search and social networking services for free, and utilize the information to expand their businesses.


Personal information, the government report said, “has an economic value like money.” If the value of collected personal information exceeds that of the service used, the service provider potentially violates Japan’s Act on Prohibition of Private Monopolization and Maintenance of Fair Trade.


Moreover, small- and medium-sized companies selling products through dominant IT firms may be treated in ways violating the antitrust law, such as getting slapped with big bills, according to the report.


The government intends to consider applying the antitrust act after studying the situation more closely. This direction of regulatory action is appropriate.


The IT industry will play important roles for future economic growth. If giant corporations focus only on their own profits and infringe upon the interests of users, the economy as a whole cannot be expected to have sound expansion.


We also need to require corporations to act with social responsibility in mind. Up until now, even when IT services are used for questionable dealings, IT companies providing such services have been given lenient treatment on the assumption that they only offered venues for those transactions Now the influence of those IT companies has grown so enormous that corresponding regulations must be introduced.


We live in a time when results of searches or posts online even affect politics. Clarifying the standards for data processing, which face criticism as being vague, is also of vital importance.


Japan, which just started regulating those IT giants, should quickly catch up with the European Union, where comprehensive regulatory measures are being prepared on top of strict protection rules for personal information.


To make new regulations effective, international cooperation must be pursued. Japan needs to work together with the EU to convince a reluctant United States to join them in beefing up regulatory control over those American IT giants.

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