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.
Kevin Allison is a Senior Editor for Signal. Based in Washington DC, he looks at how technology is reshaping global affairs. Kevin is also a Director in the Geo-Technology practice at Eurasia Group. Kevin holds degrees from the University of Missouri and from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He was also a Fulbright Scholar in Vienna, Austria and a 2015 Miller Journalism Fellow at the Santa Fe Institute. Prior to GZERO Media and Eurasia Group, Kevin was a journalist at Reuters and the Financial Times. He has lived in eight US states and has been an expat four times.
A disruptive new technology appears. People freak out. A political backlash ensues. It's a pattern that's shaped the evolution of technologies from the printing press, to radio, to gene-modified foods, to social media. Next up: facial recognition, which uses AI to teach computers to recognize human faces. The backlash has been accelerating in recent weeks:
When Donald Trump first started talking about buying Greenland last week, we figured it was a weird story with less legs than a Harp seal.
Signal readers, we were wrong. President Trump was so serious about purchasing the autonomous Danish territory that this week he abruptly cancelled a trip to Denmark after the country's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, labelled the idea "absurd."
What We're Watching: Italy's Uncertainty, Zimbabwe's Crisis, and an Iranian Tanker Heading for Greece
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.
15: In an early primary vote held over the weekend, Argentine President Mauricio Macri and his austerity policies were walloped by 15 percentage points (47-32) by the opposition ticket helmed by Alberto Fernandez and his running mate, former president Cristina Kirchner. The scale of the defeat that polls had predicted would be much closer bodes ill for Macri's chances in the first round of national voting in October.
60,000: An estimated 60,000 people hit the streets in Moscow over the weekend to protest the government's move to ban opposition politicians from the Russian capital's upcoming elections. Vladimir Putin, who spent the weekend meeting a right-wing biker gang in Crimea, has remained silent about the protests, which have dragged on for a month and are the biggest in Russia in eight years.
9: In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 9% of youths are enrolled in vocational colleges or universities. That's double the percentage in 2000, but governments continue to face challenges delivering good jobs once graduates hit the labor market. Around 1 in 9 Africans with higher education live abroad in an OECD country; just 1 in 30 Asians with similar qualifications do so.
5: Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific airline saw its shares tumble almost 5% on Monday as Hong Kong protests rolled into their eleventh week and forced the cancellation of all flights as protestors occupied the city's main terminal. Meanwhile, Beijing warned that the protests had begun showing "early signs of terrorism."
A coalition cracking in Yemen - On Saturday, UAE-backed southern separatists took over the presidential palace in Aden, the country's second-largest city. On Sunday, they were bombed by a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia. The Saudis and Emiratis entered the Yemen fray together back in March 2015 to push back against the Iran-aligned Houthis and contain Tehran's expanding influence in the region. But the two countries quickly developed different long-term goals and cultivated very different allies on the ground. The Saudis support the internationally-recognized Yemeni government, while the Emiratis backed separatists that would like to see the country split in two. This weekend's fighting, just weeks after the UAE's drawdown from Yemen, is not the first standoff between Saudi-backed and UAE-backed forces in Yemen, but if it continues, it could be the most destructive. Not what you want to hear about a conflict that the UN has already christened the "world's worst humanitarian disaster."
An ominous explosion in Russia - Last week, an explosion at a missile test site off Russia's northern coast caused radiation in a nearby city to spike to 200 times normal levels. Seven people died in the blast, including five Russian nuclear scientists. Russia has changed the official story several times, but Western spooks think something went wrong while Moscow was testing a new nuclear-powered cruise missile. We're watching this for two reasons. First, because it's a glimpse of the dangers inherent in the new arms race that's developing between the US and Russia. Second, because the poor communication is not a great look for a government that's already under pressure from some of the biggest protests in Moscow in years.
What We're Ignoring:
China's new cryptocurrency - China is apparently "close" to launching its own cryptocurrency. Beijing has been looking into launching a digital renminbi for years, but appears to have intensified its efforts following Facebook's recent decision to back a new cryptocurrency project called Libra. Sounds interesting in theory. Beijing is worried that Libra could undermine its control over its financial system and its long-term effort to promote the renminbi as an alternative to the US dollar. But convincing 1.4 billion people to trade their cash for a digital substitute that authorities can easily track may be a tall order, even for China.
Imagine: It's October 2019, and European bureaucrats are facing down a brash leader who has promised to bring Brussels to heel. No, not Boris Johnson, who appears increasingly determined to take the UK out of the EU on October 31. I'm talking about Matteo Salvini.
Italy's right-wing interior minister plunged the country's government into turmoil on Friday by demanding a no-confidence vote in Europe's third-biggest economy. It's the beginning of the end for the uneasy, 14-month-old governing coalition between his right-wing Lega party and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement. Salvini visited a string of Italian beaches in his swim trunks over the weekend to take his case to Italian voters. Parliamentarians have been summoned back from summer holidays; the Italian senate is due to meet today to decide on a date for a no-confidence vote, which could take place as soon as tomorrow.
An anti-immigration crusader who has risked sanctions by pushing ahead with big tax cuts that would break the EU's budget rules, Salvini is gambling that an early vote will allow Lega to consolidate its growing popularity in Italy and install him as prime minister. His chances look decent: One recent poll put Lega's support in Italy at 36 percent, double that of 5-Star, and also comfortably ahead of the more mainstream center-left Democratic Party (PD). Rules that give any party or group of parties that win 40 percent of the votes in a national election in Italy a "bonus" allotment of seats could allow Salvini to form a government without former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and his Forza Italia party, instead relying on the smaller Brothers of Italy party, which Salvini much prefers. Investors reacted nervously on Monday to the prospect of a budgetary showdown between an emboldened Salvini and the EU.
The gambit could backfire. Parties seen as breaking up a government tend to suffer in subsequent polls in Italy. Matteo Renzi, the former PD prime minister, has suggested banding together with rival factions to block a Lega takeover. Lega is also facing an unfolding scandal about top party aides' attempts to solicit funding from Russia ahead of European elections this past May that could complicate citizens' choices in a new poll.
But if Salvini and Lega win, it could embolden a politician whose rants against immigrants and Brussels have resonated with Italian voters fed up with traditional political parties. For the EU this autumn, the biggest source of political turmoil may not be a charismatic politician who wants to take his country out of the bloc, but one who wants to stay in and wreak political havoc.