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Monday 21 October 2019

France’s Macron takes on internet giants in tech push

The president welcomed leaders of dozens of tech companies at a conference meant to address how they could use their influence for the public good.

Emmanuel Macron hosts the Tech for Good summit over lunch with tech company CEOs at the Elysee Palace in Paris (Charles Platiau/Pool photo via AP)
Emmanuel Macron hosts the Tech for Good summit over lunch with tech company CEOs at the Elysee Palace in Paris (Charles Platiau/Pool photo via AP)

By Angela Charlton and Sylvie Corbet, Associated Press

French President Emmanuel Macron has taken on Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and other internet giants at a Paris meeting to discuss personal data protection and taxes as France pushes for tougher European regulations.

Mr Macron welcomed Mr Zuckerberg and the leaders of dozens of other tech companies, including Microsoft, Uber and IBM, at a Tech for Good conference meant to address how they could use their global influence for the public good.

The meeting came as Facebook, Google and other online giants are increasingly seen by the public as predators that abuse personal data, avoid taxes and stifle competition.

Mr Macron, ahead of their meeting at the Elysee Palace, said he planned to keep asking Mr Zuckerberg to make “commitments”.

Mark Zuckerberg arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris (Francois Mori/AP)

“France defends the idea of tough regulations” such as a 3% digital tax on tech companies’ gross revenue in the European Union, Mr Macron said, adding that it is “crucial” that internet giants pay taxes.

He also wants new regulations to combat extremist propaganda online and cyber-bullying.

Privacy was another issue Mr Macron was raising with Mr Zuckerberg and the other tech executives in one-on-one meetings and a mass lunch in the presidential palace with philanthropists and politicians.

Mr Zuckerberg came to Paris after facing tough questions on Tuesday from European Union politicians in Brussels, where he apologised for the way the social network has been used to produce fake news and interfere in elections.

Facebook “didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibilities”, he said, adding: “That was a mistake, and I’m sorry for it.”

But Mr Zuckerberg also frustrated the politicians as the testimony’s set-up allowed him to respond to a list of questions as he saw fit.

Mark Zuckerberg takes a selfie with Tony Elumelu, chairman of United Bank of Africa (Charles Platiau,Pool via AP)

Mr Macron sees himself as uniquely placed to both understand and influence the tech world.

France’s youngest president, Mr Macron has championed start-ups and aggressively wooed technology investors.

But Mr Macron is also one of Europe’s most vocal critics of tax schemes used by companies such as Facebook that deprive governments of billions of euros a year in potential revenue.

And Mr Macron has defended an aggressive new European data protection law that comes into effect this week.

The so-called GDPR regulation will give Europeans more control over what companies can do with what they post, search and click.

Several companies took advantage of the meeting to announce new initiatives.

Microsoft said it would extend the new European data protection law to its clients worldwide.

Google committed 100 million dollars over the next five years to support non-profit projects such as training in digital technologies.

Uber said it will finance insurance to better protect its European drivers in case of accidents at work, serious illness, hospitalisation and maternity leave.

And IBM announced the creation of 1,400 new jobs by 2020 in France.

Mr Macron, Mr Zuckerberg and others are expected to attend the Vivatech gadget show in Paris on Thursday.

PA Media

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