Taoiseach met Google over EU’s digital sector reforms

Micheál Martin is under pressure

Wayne O'Connor

Micheál Martin told Google he hoped proposed European digital regulations would reflect the EU’s “liberal trading ethos” amid concern about how major tech firms were tackling illegal and harmful online content.

European Commission rules aim to overhaul how the EU body regulates digital markets, with large fines and break-ups threatened if companies fail to comply with the new measures.

Ireland is expected to play a key role keeping major tech firms based here in check.

Google bosses met the Taoiseach to discuss the proposals last January.

Notes from the meeting, obtained under Freedom of Information, show officials acknowledged moderating online content has become increasingly important internationally but responses and regulations will have to balance possible harms with freedom of expression.

“The Taoiseach noted he hoped the EU could work constructively with the Biden administration on digital matters and that proposals for digital regulation by the EU would reflect the bloc’s liberal trading ethos,” the meeting notes state.

Under the new European Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act major tech firms would face yearly checks on how they are tackling the sharing of harmful and illegal content online.

The rules position major online platforms as “gatekeepers in digital markets” and aim to ensure these behave fairly and facilitate competition online.

Companies would be restricted from ranking their own products above competitors in online searches and app stores.

The rules would also impose restrictions on the use of consumer data.

Speaking notes prepared for Mr Martin before the meeting reveal he planned to tell Google the Government was examining the European Commission’s proposals and would liaise with other EU states “to ensure any new regulations help companies to grow and do not inhibit innovation”.

He also planned to tell Google the onus is on the European Commission “to produce evidence that innovation is being stifled by so-called ‘gatekeeper platforms’” and to show that digital markets are not open and competitive.

Mr Martin’s speaking notes also stated: “Under the Digital Services Act, it is likely Ireland will have significant responsibilities."

It is proposed large firms like Google must take steps to prevent online problems and risks, and have such measures “audited”, he said.

"But we will be making the point that any enforcement measures on foot of these audits must be based on legal clarity and certainty, which is what I believe businesses want.”

Notes show Google senior vice-president of global affairs Kent Walker assured Mr Martin the firm was introducing new products and would seek to work with traditional news outlets to assist competition online.