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全球化反噬互联网巨头

Jeff John Roberts 2017年08月08日

多年来,美国很多家成功的科技巨头一直无往不胜。然而在去年,各国政府展示了让苹果、Facebook等强大巨头折腰的本事。

虽然近年来美国科技公司已经跃升至《财富》500强排行榜靠前的位置,但一直有国外监管者指称其中掺杂了欺骗手段。这会不会导致科技公司成长神话戛然而止?

这里讨论的罚款可不是小数目。今年6月欧盟以违反公平竞争为由向搜索引擎巨头谷歌开出27亿美元的罚单,逼着谷歌在北美和欧洲两大洲的律师团队绞尽脑汁争取改判,一旁围观的其他美国科技公司也如鲠在喉。

处罚金额其实不是问题:比起谷歌920亿美元的现金储备27亿美元不过是很小一笔。真正令人恐惧的是欧盟的处罚只是序幕,今后欧洲和其他地区的监管者都会以公平、隐私和安全为名处罚美国科技公司,甚至影响公司决策。

多年来,美国很多家成功的科技巨头一直借着全球经济快速增长的东风加速创新,它们给观察家和股东的印象是,只要他们发现商机就能赚到钱。然而去年,各国政府展示了让苹果、Facebook等强大巨头折腰的本事。讽刺的是,大家普遍担心特朗普政府掀起保护主义热潮,影响全球市场发展,反而是其他国家的监管者首先付诸实践,高调实施了跨境打击。

“全球各地的议员们、行政管理机构和法院都开始拿谷歌、Facebook和亚马逊开刀,”总部位于纽约的Holwell Shuster & Goldberg律师事务所跨国律师伊沃·恩切夫表示。目前尚不清楚的是最近这些激进举措到底是短期集中出现,还是会对科技巨头形成长期威胁。恩切夫补充说,最让人担心的是监管者依据本地法律以前所未有的方式介入公司运营,一旦成真可能导致收入快速增长的趋势停滞。

冲在最前面的就是欧洲,不管是国家资本,还是欧盟执行部门欧盟委员会都在对美国科技公司施加压力。在支持美国一方的人士眼里,最近对谷歌的裁决之类都是欧洲官僚小肚鸡肠失败者心态的表现。2015年时任美国总统的巴拉克·奥巴马就表示,“欧洲的服务商根本比不上我们美国的,所以总想设置些障碍。”

当然了,出征海外面临重重困难的的美国科技公司不只谷歌。(详见本文末《五面出击》。)去年欧盟委员会也勒令苹果支付超过130亿美元税费,而欧洲最高法院也支持法国当局以非法运营出租车业务处罚Uber。除了欧洲,科技巨头在其他地方日子也不好过。今年6月,加拿大最高法院做出一项知识产权决定,强迫谷歌不仅在加拿大境内,而是在全球范围内删除某些搜索结果。俄罗斯和中国则经常以国家安全为名要求美国科技公司分享知识产权。

与此同时,欧洲严格的数据和隐私法也显示出威力。Facebook收购WhatsApp就触犯了欧洲的隐私法案,其他公司也得耗费大量银子遵守“遗忘权”法律抹去用户上网痕迹。“根据最近推出的“一般性资料保护规则”制度,欧盟居民对个人信息将享有更大的掌控权。一旦明年正式施行,美国科技企业的法律顾问要头疼的事只会更多。如果违反该制度,罚金可达企业全球收入的4%。类似法律不仅造成麻烦,还可能妨碍未来的增长:Facebook和谷歌之类公司可能会被迫放弃可推动广告业务增长的用户数据。

最近谷歌的案例中,一些批评者指出欧盟委员会分析在线购物搜索时未纳入亚马逊,这看起来是法律上的疏漏,可能会影响反垄断罚金。不过对谷歌来说最麻烦的是要重新调整首页,加入竞争的购物服务信息。风投公司Andreessen Horowitz合伙人泰德·尤约特曾在乔治·W·布什政府负责反垄断事务,他指出科技公司最讨厌政府下令调整产品设计。因为科技公司认为类似指令实际上是给了政府软件开发的权限,然而政府并没有必备知识应付相关挑战,也不了解根据现状制定的商业模式。

关于购物建议的判决谷歌可能会继续上诉,不过这只是谷歌面临反垄断指控的一部分。今年7月,欧盟委员会还在进行两项大型调查行动,包括谷歌强制安卓设备制造商预装自家应用的行为是否妨碍竞争。但谷歌跟其他科技巨头面临最大的问题则是,科技企业文化与满脑国家利益的立法者之间的冲突。

“在政府眼里,迅速行动颠覆旧模式是另一回事,”风投资本家布莱德利·塔斯克表示,他曾在参议院恰克·舒默和前任纽约市长迈克尔·布隆伯格手下担任政府高层职务,还曾调停Uber一案。塔斯克还引用古希腊雅典政治家伯利克里的名言补充说,你可以不关心政治,但政治一定会关心你。

律师恩切夫也同意科技巨头与监管者的矛盾部分源自文化冲突的说法。“硅谷巨头们有时对颠覆逻辑过于虔诚和痴迷,”他表示。“结果通常是忽略本地价值和传统,而且或多或少有些敌意。”实际上,不管是亚马逊打击到英国商业街,还是Uber以艾因·兰德式资本主义方式(艾因·兰德是一位俄裔美国哲学家、小说家,强烈拥护自由放任资本主义、反中央集权主义、反共主义——译注)入侵法国,都影响了欧洲普通人的生活,其实跟美国工厂倒闭后民粹分子哀嚎一个道理。

很自然,欧洲官员认为与硅谷的摩擦在法律上是不可避免的。欧盟反垄断主管玛格丽特·维斯塔格自从2014年上任就开始主导惩治科技公司,不过她否认存在政治企图。7月中她就谷歌案接受CNBC采访时表示,“处罚只是体现了违法行为,违法行为存在多久,处罚就多重。”

维斯塔格说的很可能是实话。实际上,虽然美国法律界看来谷歌案的判决太严酷,但实际上欧洲竞争法跟美国反垄断法不一样,不仅看对企业的损害,还要看对客户的损害。与此同时,被指玩弄政治的也不只是欧盟,也有欧洲人士质疑如果不是大众排放造假,还是美国本土车企造假,美国联邦和州政府的处罚还会不会那么重。

2013年之前尤约特曾担任Facebook首席法律顾问,他表示欧洲和其他国家政府的种种行为并不是新鲜事。“这种事也有些周期的,”他表示,并指出2004年欧盟就曾对微软处以7.94亿美元的罚款,理由是在Windows系统中强制捆绑媒体播放器。此外2001年也曾决定组织通用电气和霍尼韦尔合并,也是欧盟严格监管一例。

讽刺的是,虽然欧盟的举措能影响美国科技公司,对欧洲用户来说帮助可能并不大。拿上个月的谷歌案来说,欧盟委员会拼命保护的互联网产品是垂直购物搜索引擎,在亚马逊和各式购物软件流行的当下其实早已绝迹。(顺便提一下,欧盟官员也在挑亚马逊的毛病,正就图书销售推动反垄断和解,而且在调查亚马逊在卢森堡的税务安排。)

“如今的反垄断监管经常来得太晚,总是在追究过去的问题和争议,”尤约特表示。不幸的是,对美国公司和股东来说,即便日后证明种种监管举措徒劳无功,但现在就得承受巨额损失,处理一堆麻烦。

五面出击

全球政府都在利用各种法律对科技领域提起诉讼,这方面美国监管者却行动迟缓。下面是主要几个战场:

反垄断法律

保护竞争方面的法律是非常强大而且出其不意的工具,欧盟才能针对谷歌的购物垂直引擎和应用(进行中)发起各种调查,还可以就图书销售调查亚马逊(最近已和解)。

数据存储和隐私法案

欧盟就数据方面的侵犯隐私处罚了Facebook多次(包括5月的1.22亿美元处罚),7月苹果也在中国落地了第一组服务器,就为了符合数据本地存储的规定。

劳动法

法国不仅针对Uber和管理者征收罚款,还就非法运营出租车提起了刑事诉讼。

国家安全

俄罗斯对思科和IBM等美国公司制造的设备发起“后门”攻击,泄露大批敏感的源代码,也引发广泛担心。大部分公司为了打入市场都选择严格遵守。

税法

科技公司的税收安排经常有些怪异,在欧洲也导致格外严厉的监管,调查人员仔细筛查了微软和亚马逊等大公司的税务安排。去年一项调查的结果是苹果要支付130亿美元欠税。苹果首席执行官蒂姆·库克称之为“政治垃圾”。(财富中文网)

译者:Pessy

审稿:夏林

U.S. tech companies have soared to the top ranks of the Fortune Global 500 in recent years. Foreign regulators say they did it by cheating. Could their crackdown put an end to a great growth story?

It was no ordinary fine. After the European Commission hit Google (rank no. 65, Fortune Global 500) with a $2.7 billion antitrust penalty in June, in a case related to its shopping results, the search giant scrambled legal teams on two continents to seek redress—while the rest of the U.S. tech industry swallowed hard.

The money wasn’t the issue: $2.7 billion, while a hefty sum, would barely dent Google’s $92 billion cash reserve. But there is genuine fear the EC fine could be the opening salvo in a grisly shoot-out, as regulators in Europe and elsewhere grow emboldened to punish American tech firms, and even meddle in their decision-making, in the name of fairness, privacy, or security.

For years, a handful of the most successful U.S. tech giants have ridden their innovations to rapid global growth, leaving observers and some shareholders with the impression that they can conduct business as they see fit wherever they want. Over the past year, though, national governments have shown they can still bend mighty firms like Apple (rank no. 9, Fortune Global 500) and Facebook (rank no. 393) to their laws. Ironically enough, amid fears that the Trump administration would spook global markets with a wave of protectionist policies, foreign regulators are the ones landing the first high-profile, cross-border blows.

“Legislators, administrative bodies, and courts around the world are starting to take on giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon,” says Ivo Entchev, a transnational lawyer at Holwell Shuster & Goldberg in New York. What’s less clear is whether their recent bold decisions are just a temporary burst of activity, or whether they amount to a long-term, existential threat to the tech behemoths. The fundamental worry, Entchev adds, is that regulators could use local laws to intrude in unprecedented ways into the firms’ operations—potentially putting an end to a remarkable streak of revenue growth.

The vanguard of regulatory action is Europe, where national capitals and the EC, the European Union’s executive arm, are putting the screws to U.S. tech firms. Some on the U.S. side of the Atlantic see the recent Google ruling, and others like it, as examples of Eurocrats behaving like sore losers. As then-President Barack Obama put it in 2015, “Their service providers—who, you know, can’t compete with ours—are essentially trying to set up some roadblocks.”

Google is hardly the only U.S. tech firm getting a rough ride abroad, of course. (See “Fighting on Five Fronts,” at the end of this article.) Over the past year, Apple was hit by the EC with an order to pay more than $13 billion in back taxes, while Europe’s top court is set to bless a decision by French authorities to hit Uber managers with criminal charges for unlicensed taxi operations. Outside of Europe, tech giants are also taking lumps. In June, an intellectual property decision by the Supreme Court of Canada forced Google to delete certain search results not just in Canada but everywhere in the world. Russia and China routinely invoke national security to require American tech innovators to share intellectual property.

Europe’s strict data and privacy laws, meanwhile, are showing their bite. Facebook has been dinged for privacy infractions related to its WhatsApp acquisition, while other companies have run up bills scrubbing information under “right to be forgotten” laws. The General Data Protection Regulation, a new legal regime intended to give EU citizens more control over their data, could create still more heartburn for U.S. general counsels when it goes into effect next year. Noncompliance with the GDPR could incur eye-popping penalties of up to 4% of a company’s global revenues. Such laws are not just a nuisance but a barrier to future growth: For the likes of Facebook and Google, they could choke off the user data that turbocharges their advertising businesses.

In the recent Google case, cynics pointed out that the EC’s analysis did not include Amazon in the definition of the market for online shopping searches—a seeming legal error that would undercut the case for an antitrust penalty. The most troubling part of the ruling for Google, though, was its requirement that the company rearrange its homepage to accommodate competing shopping services. Ted Ullyot, a partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz who worked on antitrust issues for the George W. Bush administration, points out that tech firms in particular resent governments ordering them to change their product designs. Such orders, they believe, amount to governments behaving as de facto software developers, even though they lack knowledge of the challenges this may entail—or of the business models that depend on the status quo.

The shopping decision, which Google may still appeal, is only one part of the company’s antitrust trouble. As of July, the EC was also conducting two other major investigations, including one that looks at whether contracts that oblige Android device makers to preload Google’s apps are anticompetitive. But Google and other tech leaders also face a bigger problem: the tension between their culture and those of national-interest-minded lawmakers.

“Moving fast and breaking things works differently when it comes to government,” says Bradley Tusk, a venture capitalist who has held senior political roles under Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and worked as a fixer for Uber. Tusk adds an aphorism from Pericles to the effect that just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.

The ire the tech giants are engendering from regulators stems in part from a culture clash, agrees Entchev, the lawyer. “Silicon Valley titans have at times exhibited an evangelical and single-minded devotion to the logic of disruption,” he says. “The corollary has been an insensitivity and a perceived, if not actual, hostility to local values and traditions.” Indeed, the idea of Amazon punching holes in England’s beloved high streets or Uber invading France with Ayn Rand–style capitalism rankles ordinary European citizens as much as shuttered factories gall U.S. populists.

European officials, unsurprisingly, frame their conflicts with Silicon Valley as a cut-and-dried matter of law. Margrethe Vestager, the EU antitrust chief who became the tech industry’s prime tormentor after taking up her post in 2014, has disavowed any political agenda. In the Google case, she told CNBC in mid-July, “the fine is a reflection of the abuse and how long the abuse has taken place.”

Vestager may well be sincere. Indeed, the Google decision seems harsh to American lawyers in part because, unlike U.S. antitrust law, European competition policy focuses on harm to companies as well as to consumers. Meanwhile, EU countries aren’t the only ones accused of playing politics in regulatory actions—some Europeans are asking whether the U.S. federal and state penalties raining down on Volkswagen for its emissions scandal would be as severe if the automaker was American.

Ullyot, who served as Facebook’s first general counsel until 2013, notes that the recent regulatory onset by the Europeans and other governments is hardly new. “We’ve seen a few cycles of this,” he says, pointing to the EU’s $794 million fine against Microsoft, in 2004, for bundling its media player with Windows, and the 2001 decision to block a merger between GE and Honeywell, as other high-water marks of regulatory zeal.

Ironically, while the enforcement actions might trip up U.S. tech companies, they are unlikely to do much to help European consumers. In last month’s Google decision, the EC flexed its muscles to defend an Internet product—vertical search shopping engines—that has become obsolete for many in the age of Amazon and apps. (The Eurocrats, incidentally, are pecking at Amazon too, forcing a recent antitrust settlement over book sales and probing the company’s Luxembourg tax arrangements.)

“Antitrust regulation usually comes way too late in the day. It’s chasing yesterday’s problems and controversies,” says Ullyot. Unfortunately for U.S. companies and their shareholders, even if the current regulatory outburst proves futile on the policy front, it will cost them a lot of money and headaches.

Fighting on Five Fronts

Governments around the world are mounting more legal challenges against the tech sector, wielding tools that U.S. regulators are slower to deploy. Here are the main battlegrounds:

Antitrust litigation

Powerful and unpredictable tools, competition laws have driven sprawling European Union investigations into Google, over its shopping verticals and apps (ongoing), and Amazon, over its book sales (recently settled).

Data storage and privacy laws

The EU has repeatedly fined Facebook over data-related privacy violations (including a $122 million levy in May), while Apple in July installed its first servers in China to comply with rules requiring local data storage.

Labor laws

France not only levied fines against Uber and its managers but also brought a criminal case over unlicensed taxi operations.

National security

Russia has invoked concerns about “back doors” into U.S.-built devices in order to force companies like Cisco and IBM to reveal sensitive source code. Most firms have complied, in order to retain access to the market.

Tax law

The tech industry’s exotic tax arrangements are under extra scrutiny in Europe, with investigators probing companies like Microsoft and Amazon. One investigation led to an order last year for Apple to pay more than $13 billion in back taxes—an arrangement CEO Tim Cook called “political crap.”

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