MARK ZUCKERBERG might not have liked everything he heard, but Facebook’s boss got the timing right for a recent visit to Brussels. He was among the first outsiders to hear about the European Union’s ambitious plans to keep the technology industry in check, outlined in a series of documents made public a few days later, on February 19th. His visit is an admission that political paralysis in Washington, DC, has handed the EU the opportunity to become the world’s most important source of tech regulation.
Europe is both gnome and giant in the tech world. The continent has lots of cutting-edge technology but hardly any significant digital platforms. It accounts for less than 4% of the market capitalisation of the world’s 70 largest platforms (America boasts 73% and China 18%). At the same time, the EU is a huge market, with a population of more than 500m, which no tech titan can ignore. It contributes about a quarter of the revenues of Facebook and Google.
This combination has given rise to what Anu Bradford of Columbia Law School calls, in a new book of the same name, the “Brussels effect”. Digital services are, in her words, often “indivisible”. It would be too expensive for big tech firms to offer substantially different services outside the EU. As a result, most have adopted the General...
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