EU’s Anti-Trust Commissioner Talks Future of Tech

EU’s Anti-Trust Commissioner Talks Future of Tech

The European Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, has expressed optimism over the future of technology in Europe and said she sees “no limits in how artificial intelligence can support what we want to do as humans in society.”

Speaking at the Web Summit conference hosted last week in Lisbon, Portugal, Vestager described her priorities in regulating big tech to preserve a globally competitive environment. After being appointed to a surprise second term, Vestager has taken on an expanded remit of late, including overseeing EU digital policy and coordinating “human-centered” rules on artificial intelligence (AI) within the first 100 days of her term. 

Even so, the bloc’s antitrust chief was clear that Brussels would endeavour not to over-regulate AI development so as to ensure its current rate of innovation. “The first thing we will do is listen very carefully to stakeholders everywhere,” she told summit attendees, “and we will try to listen fast because, as we are speaking, AI is developing.” 

“We need to get in control of the cornerstones so that we can trust it, [and ensure] it has human oversight and, more importantly, does not have bias,” she continued. 

Vestager has already carved out a reputation for herself in the big tech arena, having been dubbed by US President Donald Trump as Europe’s “tax lady” after she forced Apple to repay $17 billion in taxes and fined Google a combined $9.5 billion over antitrust violations. Amazon and Facebook are currently facing investigations across Europe. 

The commissioner has expressed scepticism over tech giants in the past, citing their pursuit of ambitions far higher than the current EU regulatory framework is designed to monitor. “If you look at Google’s new services being launched, if you look at Facebook’s Libra plans, if you look at Apple’s streaming services, you see bigger ambitions,” she said, “this shows me that we have reached a phase where competition law enforcement can only do part of the job.

“We need to find the right level of democracy framing tech and say this is how you should serve us.” 

While the idea of breaking up the major tech giants is gaining popularity in the US- even Trump has expressed some level of concern over industry monopoly- Vestager has taken a different view. 

“We should say that, when you become that big, you have a special responsibility because you are the de facto rule setter in the market,” she said, “We should be much more precise about what that entails, otherwise there is a risk that the many interesting companies have no chance of competing.” 

Discussing advocates of breaking up big tech companies, Vestager pointed to a lack of a viable alternative model at present. “There is a risk that you do not solve the problem, and you just have many more problems.” 

Ultimately, the commissioner claims to have faith in technology and its ability to serve humans. Hailing the US for its renewed interest and engagement in the issue, Vestager claims that “we need to understand what is going on, and to do that as a community.” 

EU tech players, it seems, can breathe a sigh of relief. 

Joanna Eva is a London-based analyst and contributor with a range of clients in the risk consulting industry. She specializes in Asian political and economic analysis, having lived and travelled extensively in the region for close to a decade. She holds a Master of Law from the University of New South Wales and received her Bachelor of International Studies from the University of Sydney. She is proficient in English and Mandarin Chinese.

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