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Google, Meta win court fight against Austrian online content rule

LUXEMBOURG: Alphabet’s Google, Meta Platforms and TikTok on Thursday (Nov 9) won backing from Europe’s top court in their fight against an Austrian law requiring them to delete hate speech or face fines of up to (US$10.69 million).

The Austrian law, enacted in 2021 and which obliges Big Tech to publish regular reports of illegal content, comes amid mounting concerns worldwide about hateful posts.

The European Union recently adopted new rules called the Digital Services Act (DSA) which require large online platforms to do more to tackle illegal and harmful online content or risk fines up to 6 per cent of their annual turnover.

Google, Meta and TikTok challenged the Austrian law in an Austrian court, saying that it is contrary to an EU rule which says online service providers are only subject to the rules of the country where they are established, while countries where they provide a service must refrain from applying their laws.

The three companies, which have their European headquarters in Ireland, say they should only be subject to Irish rules. The Austrian court subsequently sought advice from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which sided with the companies.

“A member state may not subject a communication platform provider established in another member state to general and abstract obligation,” judges said.

“Such a national approach is contrary to EU law, which ensures the free movement of information society services through the principle of control in the Member State of origin of the service concerned,” they said.

Google welcomed the ruling.

“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,” a Google spokesperson said.

Meta and TikTok did not immediately respond to emails requesting comment.

Thursday’s ruling cannot be appealed.

The case is C-376/22 – Google Ireland and Others.

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