Big Tech earns year’s worth of fines in a week

Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta, and Microsoft made enough money in the first week of 2024 to pay their combined total of fines received in 2023. It doesn’t mean they will.

It took seven days and three hours for the leading technology companies to earn enough revenue to pay off just over $3 billion in fines they collectively received on both sides of the Atlantic last year, according to research carried out by the Switzerland-based privacy company Proton.

“A little over a week of operations is all it would take if the companies tackled their fines one after another. If they each paid their fines simultaneously, Meta would be the last to finish after five days and 13 hours,” researchers said in a blog post.

The Facebook and Instagram parent company leads the pack with $1.72 billion in fines levied by the governments worldwide in 2023, according to Proton. It is followed by Google-parent Alphabet with $941 million in fines, the amount equivalent to its earnings made in one day and four hours.

Apple received $186.4 million in fines last year, a sum that it only needed four hours of work to cover, according to the research. Meanwhile, Amazon earned the $111.7 million needed to cover its fines in just two hours. For Microsoft, it took 3.5 hours to make the amount needed to cover its $84 million worth of fines.

“This shows how insignificant these fines are for companies whose revenues are often larger than countries’ GDPs,” Proton said, adding that Big Tech companies view fines as “nothing more than the cost of doing business.”

It said it used the latest reported figures of each company to calculate the average revenue earned per hour.

Image by Proton

According to researchers, fines are too weak and do not have the desired effect. Big Tech further waters down their impact by employing delaying tactics, they said. This includes appeals, countersuits, or even outright refusal to pay at all, which can take years to resolve.

“If a company can pay off a fine with less than a week’s revenue or avoid paying it entirely for half a decade, then it won’t cause executives to tread cautiously,” Proton said, adding that this was taking “time and resources away from regulators’ efforts to create a level playing field in the market.”

Heftier fines were needed for the situation to change, but also stronger antitrust legislation to prevent mergers that create monopolies and encourage competition, it said. Steps in the right direction include the Digital Markets, Consumer, and Competition Bill under consideration in the UK, as well as similar legislation proposed in South Korea and Japan.

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