In the face of Big Tech, Europe needs to find its own digital model

Guy Verhofstadt
2 min readJul 30, 2020

Hardly a day goes by without a scandal involving social media companies. This week, we found out Twitter used its data to track celebrities like Beyoncé, two weeks ago some of the biggest names on the planet got hacked. Earlier, we learnt Amazon reportedly abuses its dominant position and data to force smaller competitors out of the market.

The EU recently tried again to tackle Google for anti-trust violations, this time in online advertising, with another massive fine. And Facebook has a particularly poor track record on taking down dangerous content — including lies, extremism and racism — just because it gets rich off sowing division.

And just because they can: democratic politics has yet to find an answer to the rise of Big Tech, one that maintains the benefits of digital innovation but keeps them from distorting markets and destroying the tissue of our democracies. Regulation is one part of the answer. Healthy competition is another part: as long as outraged consumers have nowhere else to go, Big Tech can do what it wants.

For Europe, the problem has an additional dimension: even if the US would go some way to hold Silicon Valley accountable (we will have to see about that!), there are no European alternatives anywhere in the digital market, which is an economic as well as strategic absurdity.

The EU is the biggest economy in the world but in digital terms it is all give and no take: There are simply no European contenders on the digital market. Our own digital market is fragmented along national lines, and so is our political and regulatory arsenal. Hence, whenever we do succeed with research, the resulting development is either stifled or sold to foreign companies… who then get rich off European ideas, sales and data.

So we will avidly follow the GAFA hearings in Congress, but shouldn’t wait for the outcome: We need to take the EU’s digital future into our own hands, by integrating the European digital market, setting up one single regulator and building our own model, where consumers take centre place in owning and monetising data. No to the US model, No to the China model, Yes to a European model!

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