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Big Tech Gets Caught in a Regulatory Vise

Big Tech Gets Caught in a Regulatory Vise

Back in June, we talked about how US regulators were taking aim at Big Tech – gradually at first, but then suddenly, as federal anti-trust authorities launched investigations into large Silicon Valley firms' market power. The past week has brought some important new twists in the global campaign to rein in the industry. Here's a look at where the political heat is coming from.


Top-down pressure in Europe: On Tuesday, incoming European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen tapped Margrethe Vestager, one of the industry's most feared and revered tech regulators, for a new five-year term. The Danish politician, who US President Donald Trump has dubbed "the tax lady," has made waves with a series of multi-billion-dollar fines against huge US tech companies during her stint as EU competition commissioner. Under von der Leyen, Vestager will not only hold onto her anti-trust powers, she'll also take on broader responsibility within the EU for making Europe "fit for the digital age," including figuring out how Europe can maintain its "technological sovereignty" in a world dominated by US and Chinese tech firms. Vestager was already one of the most powerful enforcers in global tech. She just got even fiercer.

Bottom-up pressure in the US: Top prosecutors in 48 US states on Monday unveiled a "multi-state, bipartisan" competition probe into Google. This followed news of a similar anti-trust investigation into Facebook last week. The state-level action is interesting mainly because of Washington dysfunction: If federal investigations into Big Tech stall, could anti-trust become the latest example of state and local governments cracking down where national governments can't or won't? It's already happened in privacy, where a tough new California digital privacy law is set to fill the void created by Congressional inaction when it comes into force in January. Curiously, California was one of two states that declined to join the Google probe – its attorney general has remained tight-lipped about why, citing a need to "protect potential and ongoing investigations." Even so, the legal risks facing big tech companies in the US just got more complicated.

Bottom line: From all angles, Big Tech's regulatory squeeze in the West is only going to intensify.

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Learn more about how carbon created life on Earth in the second episode of Eni's Story of CO2 series.

On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on the Navalny poisoning on Europe In 60 Seconds:

Can Europe get to the bottom of Russian opposition leader Navalny's poisoning? And if so, would it change anything?

One has got to the bottom of it, to certain extent. The evidence, there was a German laboratory confirming nerve agent, Novichok. They sent it to a French laboratory and the Swedish independent laboratory, they came to the exact same conclusions. I mean, it's dead certain. He was poisoned with an extremely poisonous nerve agent coming from the Russian state laboratories. Now, there is a discussion underway of what to do. I mean, the Russians are refusing any sort of serious discussions about it. Surprise, surprise. And we'll see what actions will be taken. There might be some sort of international investigation within the context of the OPCW, the international organization that is there, to safeguard the integrity of the international treaties to prevent chemical weapons. But we haven't seen the end of this story yet.

Watch as Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of WIRED, explains what's going on in technology news:

Would Facebook actually leave Europe? What's the deal?

The deal is that Europe has told Facebook it can no longer transfer data back and forth between the United States and Europe, because it's not secure from US Intelligence agencies. Facebook has said, "If we can't transfer data back and forth, we can't operate in Europe." My instinct, this will get resolved. There's too much at stake for both sides and there are all kinds of possible compromises.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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