Friday 14 December 2018

New rules for tech giants needed, says Web Summit chief

Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave
Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave

Axel Bugge

Tech companies like Google and Facebook seem like monopolies and need new rules, Web Summit organiser Paddy Cosgrave has warned.

It follows growing calls for tighter regulation of big technology firms especially after news that Russia may have manipulated the last US election with political advertisements on Facebook.

Ahead of the annual Web Summit, of the world's biggest tech events, in Lisbon this week, the Irish entrepreneur said recent initiatives by European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager could mean big changes for tech giants.

This, he says, could help level the playing field in a sector that is having a profound impact on societies.

Ms Vestager, who will speak at the Web Summit tomorrow, has levied huge fines for unpaid taxes and unfair competition on big technology firms, including Apple, Google and Amazon in the past couple of years.

"In economic terms these (companies) would appear to fall into a classic definition of monopolies," Mr Cosgrave told Reuters.

"And if she is successful she will probably set the standard for the rest of the world and will usher in a fundamental change in how the largest and most profitable companies in the history of the world are treated.

"This changes the playing field for all other companies."

Mr Cosgrave said that new technology had been assumed by many to be just positive, but that it often "can be incredibly disruptive".

He said the need for new rules was similar to past technological shifts such as the invention of cars.

"We had an operating system that, by and large with some modifications every decade, worked for the last 200 years," Cosgrave said.

"And then suddenly, you'd have to be naive or have your head buried in the sand, to not realise that the very fabric of our society, certainly western society, feels like it's getting pulled and stretched in weird ways. We need ... a new operating system."

Web Summit has grown into one of the world's largest technology conferences, from 400 participants when it started in Dublin in 2010, to 59,000 this week.

It began as a venue for tech startups and includes investors, but also increasingly politicians and regulators. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is scheduled to attend the Lisbon gathering.

Irish Independent

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