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Germany: Telecom regulator head going after Google, Facebook

 |  July 5, 2018

Jochen Homann, the president of Germany’s telecom regulator Bundesnetzagentur, is going after Google and Facebook, contending that their messaging and email services should face the same regulation as telecom companies in the country.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Homann said that with the lines between telecom providers and web-based services getting blurred there must be equal regulatory treatment. “It cannot be right that a company providing traditional telecommunications services has to meet certain regulatory requirements, like those concerning data protection, while a company providing comparable services over the web does not,” he told the Financial Times. Since 2014 the Bundesnetzagentur, or Federal Network Agency, has been embroiled in a legal fight with Google after telling the company it had to register Gmail as a telecommunications operator. By doing that Google would face regulatory requirements around data protection and security and the requirement to provide information to police. The case is before the European Court of Justice, noted the Financial Times.

Homann told the paper the lawsuit against Google is a test case and that if it is victorious it would prompt a crackdown on a more broader level. “We want European companies to have a level playing field when it comes to data protection, public safety and registration requirements. That would apply to messaging services such as WhatsApp, Facebook and all the others that offer similar services,” he said. “We have shown the way forward. We want these companies to meet the same regulatory requirements in principle as conventional telecommunications companies, for example when it comes to messaging services. Companies should be aware of the direction we are going in.”

While Google wouldn’t comment to the Financial Times on the case it did say that the German regulator isn’t acting in lockstep with the rest of European countries. “The particular importance of this question arises from the potential consequences . . . for other communication services and from the impact on other EU member states,” Google said in a statement to the Financial Times. “The Bundesnetzagentur is the only supervisory authority in Europe that . . . regards the registration of Gmail as a telecommunications service as necessary.”

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