GOOGLE AND THE EU: JUST FINE THANKS

On Wednesday, the European Union slapped Google with a record $5 billion antitrust fine, the latest in a string of judgments levied by EU competition czar Margrethe Vestager against US tech companies that dominate the mobile, online advertising, and internet search markets.


This is “Team Europe: Internet Police” in action: by taking on what they consider to be Silicon Valley’s excessive clout (in this case, the EU says Google used the market dominance of its Android operating system to force consumers to use its search engine), European regulators are seeking to shape the ways that global tech companies do business locally. If Google fails to get the case overturned on appeal, it’ll have to make big changes to the way it operates in the EU and, potentially, elsewhere.

A few thoughts from our own tech czar Kevin Allison:

This is not just a European phenomenon. Governments around the world are racing to assert sovereignty over an unruly and rapidly expanding digital sphere. Whether it’s the EU getting tough on antitrust or data protection, Russia requiring tech companies to store citizens’ personal data inside the country, or China banning foreign websites to support its domestic tech sector, the “World Wide Web” is starting to look like a patchwork of “Narrow National Webs” where regulatory regimes differ from one another.

It poses existential questions for tech firms: As the global regulatory landscape fragments, should Silicon Valley’s tech giants adopt different business models for different markets, depending on local requirements? Or should they engage in a race to the top, redesigning their businesses to comply with whoever’s rules are the strictest? What if they push back against the regulatory onslaught by threatening to withhold their business from countries where the cost of complying with national rules has become too high? Whatever the answer, the freewheeling, libertarian dream that inspired the founders of many of the West’s biggest tech companies is fading fast, and local politics are becoming a global challenge for the tech giants.

America's internet giants are being pulled into political fights right and left these days. Speech – what can be said, and who can say it – is increasingly at the center of those controversies. Consider these two stories from opposite sides of the world:

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Italy's prime minister resigns – Giuseppe Conte, the caretaker prime minister appointed to mediate an uneasy governing alliance between Italy's anti-establishment 5Star Movement and the right-wing Lega party, resigned on Tuesday. Rather than wait for a no-confidence vote triggered by the rightwing Lega Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, Conte stepped down on his own terms. Salvini, who's popularity has been rising, had hoped that by triggering snap elections he could get himself appointed prime minister, will now have to wait for Italy's president, Sergio Mattarella, to decide what comes next. While Lega and smaller right-wing allies want a new vote, center and left-wing parties are apparently working to see if they can form a majority coalition – perhaps including 5Star -- that would allow Mattarella to appoint a new government without fresh elections. We're watching to see how the dust settles in Europe's third-biggest economy.

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300: The US tested a new medium-range cruise missile on Sunday that flew more than 300 miles. This marks the first time the US has tested a weapon that would have violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a Cold War era pact that was officially abandoned three weeks ago, sparking fears of a new global arms race.

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