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Google and Apple should have limits, too, says Europe’s competition enforcer, Margrethe Vestager

The European commissioner for competition has become a thorn in the side of several tech companies in recent years.

Johannes Jansson /

Danish politician Margrethe Vestager grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s "Little House on the Prairie" books, which taught her values like hard work and fairness.

Today, Vestager is Europe’s commissioner for competition, and fairness is still a very big deal to her. So big, in fact, that she has taken aim of late at companies like Apple and Google for alleged unfair tax breaks and antitrust violations, respectively.

"I think it’s a completely good thing to want to do business, to want to make money and be a success in the marketplace, to get the attention of customers," Vestager said on a new episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. "I’m not in the business of pointing fingers or blaming companies, but there is a limit to everything. In Europe, we would congratulate anyone who is successful. But congratulations stop if we find that you start to misuse a dominant position."

Previously a minister of education and a member of Denmark’s parliament, Vestager is viewed by some in the tech world as a new type of enforcer. Earlier this year, she demanded that Ireland collect nearly $15 billion in unpaid taxes from Apple, alleging that Apple was dodging what it owed by doing its booking for the whole continent from Ireland.

"I think any company should compete on the quality of their products, their prices, the novelty they can produce, their services, because that would be fair competition," she said. "If you’re in a situation where your effective tax rate is so much lower than any other company, then obviously you have a much better position when it comes to compete on prices and everything else."

(Apple, for its part, has called the pending tax penalty "total political crap.")

On the new podcast, Vestager also discussed her three-pronged antitrust case against Google, launched last year after several years of inaction by her predecessors. She said the case asserts that Google:

  1. Used its dominance in search to crowd out rivals in online shopping;
  2. Is unfairly restricting advertising intermediaries; and
  3. Is using the mobile Android OS to preserve the dominance of its own search engine and services.

"When you open the box [of an Android phone], the first experience is the Google experience," Vestager said. "Why look for something else?"

You can listen to this bonus episode of Recode Decode in the audio player above, or subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher. But don’t miss this week’s regularly scheduled episode, an interview with Niantic CEO John Hanke about the future of Pokémon Go and augmented reality.

And if you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge's Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.
  • And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. We've posted audio of every single interview at the 2016 Code Conference, so subscribe today on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on iTunes — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara. Tune in next Monday for another episode of Recode Decode!

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