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Goodbye GAFA, hello BAMAMA (or possibly MAMBAG)
The European Commission names Europe’s digital gatekeepers
It was an acronym coined by French newspaper, Le Monde, in 2012* to refer to what were then “Les géants de l'Internet” (the giants of the Internet): Google, Amazon, Facebook & Apple.
It was a handy shorthand and got used a fair bit during my time at the BBC.
The US never really embraced the GAFA acronym, favouring the Jim Cramer-coined FANG/FAANG, which included Netflix (disruptive in a single domain, Netflix hasn’t had anything like the depth or breadth of impact on the tech landscape that GAFA has). Jim later tried to popularise MAMAA, which dropped Netflix, added Microsoft and took account of Google & Facebook’s corporate name changes (to Alphabet & Meta).
Fast forward to now and the European Commission has gifted us some new acronymic possibilities by designating GAFA, Microsoft and ByteDance (owner of TikTok) as the six “gatekeepers” who have 6 months to ensure their “core platform services” are in full compliance with their obligations under the Commission’s Digital Markets Act (DMA).
The Commission has designated 22 core platforms services owned by the 6 gatekeepers. They’re a mix of operating systems, browsers, search engines, ad platforms, social/messaging/video sharing services and “intermediation services” (app stores/marketplaces + Google Maps).
It has instigated market investigations to determine whether Microsoft and Apple have made a compelling enough case to get Bing, Edge, Microsoft Advertising and iMessage off the hook.
It’s also opened a market investigation into whether iPadOS should be designated “despite not meeting the thresholds” (well played Apple for arguing that iPadOS should be considered separately to iOS).
Samsung has dodged the DMA gatekeeper bullet entirely by successfully arguing that its web browser doesn’t qualify as a gateway (I’m not sure how, as its the default browser on around a third of handsets in the EU).
With a stated aim of “offering more choice and more freedom to end users”, the DMA compels the gatekeepers to comply with assorted do’s and don’ts and submit a detailed compliance report outlining how their services comply.
The DMA has a bigger-than-usual stick to enforce compliance in the form of fines of up to 10% of the company’s total worldwide turnover (20% in case of repeated infringement). In Apple’s case this would equate to around $40bn (dwarfing the $5.1bn fine the EU imposed on Google in 2018 for anti-competitive practices).
It can also dole out “additional remedies” such as forcing a gatekeeper to sell a business or ban it from future related acquisitions.
ByteDance has already agreed to allow TikTok users to turn off personalisation in order to comply with the Commission’s Digital Services Act (although I suspect confident in the knowledge that, besides interested journalists, few will actually do so).
What about the all-important question of how we should initialise this merry band of gatekeepers? The obvious choice would be BAMAMA, but who outside of financial circles refers to Google as Alphabet? This opens up the possibility of MAGBAM, GAMMA B or, my personal favourite, MAMBAG.
Ok, I’ll get my coat…
*Update: Simon Andrews, Editor of the excellent Fix newsletter, has got in touch to point out that he used the term GAFA in a Jan 2011 post, nearly 2 years before Le Monde. Sorry Simon - I blame Google #shouldhaveusedchatgpt ;)
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