How Western Democracies Can Try And Win Over China

Fierce competition, ethics and regulations. Such are the answers from Europe and part of the US in a discussion at the Brussels Forum by the German Marshall Fund about how to safeguard our democracies.

The packed agenda ended with a discussion on ‘Our Brave New World’ with Kara Swisher, co-founder of Recode as the provocateur telling us that everything is gonna be digitized, everything, and that we need prompt action.

“With the Snowden revelations the trust between tech and government broke down,” she said. “And since then we’ve created ungovernable huge companies in the US. They are impossible to track, manage and understand. They are platforms like cities and they’ve decided to take rent from anybody, but decline to provide city lights, renovation and other services.”

“There is a lack of regulation. There is no legal recourse to the companies, they cannot be sued, there is no way of firing a guy like Zuckerberg. He is a nice guy, but he puts the blame on everybody else. I wish he had just taken one humanism class at university.You do not want people in Silicon Valley decide the fate of the human race. Trust me,” she said and underlined that she has been living there over 25 years and interviewed most tech CEOs and start-up.

Big tech in the US has weaponized social media, first amendment, speech, civil discourse and democracy according to Kara Swisher. And Marietje Schaake, Member, European Parliament tuned in:

“I have talked to as many lobbyists as Kara has interviewed tech CEO’s, and the lobbyists have managed to tell us that no or little regulation is best. They have convinced lawmakers that regulation will stifle innovation. It is false. But it worked. For a period of years many belived that technology would make democracy go viral.”

But Schaake did not agree with Swisher on everything.

“I don’t think companies are ungovernable, the question is who is gonna govern them. The board of directors on behalf of shareholders or the rule of law,” she said and pointed to the principles in a democracy that she does not want to be disrupted.

  • Fair competition
  • Privacy and data protections
  • Freedom of expression
  • Non-discrimination
  • The presumption of innocence and notion of redress

Gry Hasselbalch, co-founder of DataEthics.eu discussed how the current power structures affect our democracies, and underlined that ethics – data ethics – is vital, especially the principle; human in the loop. Put the human being at the center, let the human gain benefit from the data processing – before profits and before system efficiency, she said.

Kara Swisher made the discussion focus a bit too much on the US, but she underlined that even GDPR in Europe is not enough regulation.

“Most industries benefit from smart regulation,” she said. “Break them up. YouTube will develop a search engine as soon as it is split up from Google. Competition is the only way to win over China. I trust the entrepreneurs in a competitive environment, not the billionaires. They should be taxed, so the government – not the billionaires – decide how to use the money.”

See the whole discussion here – starting at 00.20

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