Dec 4, 2018 Anni Gullichsen
As technology has developed from something that is a fairly integral part of our lives to something that is present in everything, the significance of keeping the tech playground fair to everybody becomes more and more essential. Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition, took the Pink stage to share her insight on what kinds of problems and possibilities the current tech scene raises when it comes to doing fair business.
The more we need technology to get through the everyday life, the more important the questions of our rights – who gets to use our data and for what purposes – become. It’s a powerful tool for democratization, but unfortunately, there are also problems. With our personal data becoming a highly valuable currency on the digital markets, new ways of manipulating and persuading us to do things we didn’t necessarily know we wanted to do arise.
Margrethe Vestager, who has been in charge of the decisions considering the European tech scene’s competitiveness since 2014, is a true professional on the field of these pressing questions. She is widely known for fining big tech giants such as Apple, when they have not followed the antitrust laws of the European Union. Google, too, will soon face its second multi-billion-euro fine for taking advantage of its dominant position in the market.
As Vestager stated on the Pink stage, the era of thinking of physical space separate from cyber space is over. Thus there no longer should be different rules for life lived online and offline. This affects everything we do, the way we work and how our democracy works.
“The more we realize the more concerned we become”, Vestager summarized, and continued by asking whether technology really is here for us as humans on this planet, as citizens in a society and consumers on the marketplace. If it isn’t, then what can we do change it?
According to Vestager, during the past couple of years a number of people have had to witness that companies do not live up to the promise of their data not being hacked, misused or visible to someone it should not be visible to. Powerful, successful companies have shut the door in front of smaller companies, not allowing them to compete the way they did themselves back in the day they were not yet powerful and successful.
And that comes with a cost, and the cost is paid by everyone. Especially the consumers, Vestager stresses.
The solution the EU commission has been working on to tackle these problems is the General Data Protection Regulation, also known as the GDPR. The aim of the new regulation is to keep the EU citizens in control of their data and for businesses of all sizes to be treated in a fair way.
New business models, old school problems
Even though we have many new business models, new ways of creating value and new ideas for scale to be gained, the principles utilized can be very old school. This is because the problems that come with competition or illegal behaviour in the marketplace are still the same as, say, 10 years ago.
What Vestager stressed throughout her keynote was how to give life and space for innovation, especially how to make sure that even the smaller businesses have a chance of thriving. To make this reality, we need to make sure that powerful digital businesses don’t misuse the power of data to hold back on that innovation.
That’s why in the beginning of 2019, the EU will gather people from different fields of expertise to Brussels to discuss how to keep the market open for those who innovate. This gives new possibilities to smaller startups who can react to the new regulations faster and more efficiently than big companies.
What is most important to remember is that no matter how shiny and exciting the product is, if using it breaches its users trust, it has no future: no great business will make money by avoiding paying taxes or avoiding workers rights or misusing their users’ data. To make sure that this planet remains liveable for humans, the society for its citizens and the marketplace for its consumers.
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