Google, Meta Platforms (formerly known as Facebook), and TikTok have emerged victorious in their battle against an Austrian law that required them to delete hate speech or face hefty fines. The law, enacted in 2021, mandated that Big Tech companies publish regular reports on illegal content, reflecting the growing global concerns surrounding hateful posts.
In response to this law, the three tech giants challenged its validity in an Austrian court, arguing that it contradicted an EU rule stating that online service providers are only subject to the laws of the country where they are established. They contended that as their European headquarters are located in Ireland, they should only be bound by Irish regulations. The Austrian court then sought guidance from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which ultimately sided with Google, Meta, and TikTok.
The CJEU declared that “a member state may not subject a communication platform provider established in another member state to general and abstract obligation.” The judges emphasized that such a national approach is contrary to EU law, which upholds the principle of control in the member state where the service originated, ensuring the free movement of information society services.
Google expressed its satisfaction with the ruling, stating, “We are pleased with today’s decision which reaffirms the importance of the EU’s country of origin principle. We will study the judgment and continue to invest in the trust and safety of our users across our platforms.” On the other hand, Meta and TikTok did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
This ruling, which cannot be appealed, has significant implications for the tech industry and the regulation of online content within the European Union. It establishes limits on individual EU nations’ ability to impose their own local rules on global tech companies. The decision aligns with the EU’s recent adoption of the Digital Services Act (DSA), which requires large online platforms to take more proactive measures against illegal and harmful content. Failure to comply with the DSA can result in fines of up to 6% of a company’s annual turnover.
The case, officially known as C-376/22 – Google Ireland and Others, has been closely watched by industry observers and policymakers alike. The outcome reinforces the EU’s commitment to the principle of the country of origin, providing clarity on the jurisdictional boundaries for online service providers.
It is worth noting that this ruling comes as Google recently unveiled its new rebranding as “Meta.” The company’s shift in focus towards the metaverse and virtual reality has generated significant attention and speculation. The 3D printed Meta logo was seen alongside the Google logo in an illustration accompanying the news.