The proceedings opened by the European Antitrust Authority against Google generate points of view that are at times very different. The frame of reference is very clear. Europe is trying to guarantee fair competition between European digital companies and the Titans of Silicon Valley. The use of this term, which conjures up images of Greek mythology, is highly appropriate. The Titans were the primordial powers of the cosmos, born before the gods of Olympus. And, as Wikipedia reminds us, they raged against the world before the Olympian deities established control and order.
What kind of comparison could be more appropriate with the primordial powers of the digital revolution meeting the Olympians of the European Union with their desire to establish order? To achieve this goal, Europe is creating market conditions such as the Digital Single Market, which will bring down many regulatory barriers within the EU creating a single market of over 500 million people, the richest in the world. And it is creating fair competition conditions such as the imposition of the same rules of conduct for everyone on European "digital soil". The Google case is the most striking for many reasons, but it isn't a battle against Google. The US did something very similar with Microsoft when it was at its zenith: according to the US Antitrust Authority, the Explorer browser could have been favoured by market strategies connected with Windows that damaged the competition. Very similar, broadly speaking, to the Google / Android issue. Is Europe “bad” then? In its “United States v. Microsoft Corp.” entry, Wikipedia, an impartial voice in this case, writes that: “Compared to the European Decision against Microsoft (the action that saw Commissioner Mario Monti given the nickname Super Mario, ed.), the DOJ one is focused less on interoperability and more on predatory strategies and market barriers to entry", citing Parisian publication Le Concurrentialiste. In essence, the US response was even "harder" than that of Europe. So what is happening now? They are technically market "adjustments" and repositioning. But for the media and the political world they are "wars".
A load of nonsense?
Some might ask: isn't this a load of nonsense in an increasingly global and pervasive digital world? But the answer to this is why should it be nonsense? Everyone has their own interests at heart, quite legitimately. The Titans want to maintain their dominance of the market. Europe wants to create conditions for growth of future European Titans (or at this point gods, if we want to maintain the mythological analogy) in the form of platforms created in Europe, to recoup local and general taxes and to provide European citizens with greater guarantees in the area of privacy, security and so on, in line with the principles of European culture, which is different to the American or Asian cultures. Everyone very legitimately has their own agenda, some focusing on the interests of their company or shareholders, others the general public or the member states. And in the next 20-30 years this agenda will impact on decisions regarding schooling, work, the digital market and its impact on the transformation of the manufacturing industry, our daily lives, our consumption and much more besides.
What next? Life and history always surprise us. Robots may change our lives but there may also be a return to the physical form of many things, the conservation of memories and the transfer of information above all. The exciting thing will be finding out as we go. But in terms of playing the lead role, making the wrong decisions today could be fatal. So long live the Titans who have given us so much, long live the European deities, who will enable us to play a leading role in this world through their intervention, from Commissioners Oettinger, Ansip and Vestager, to Italian Roberto Viola who is launching a plan to strengthen basic European technology in his role as director general of DG Connect. And, most of all, “fair competition” that isn't "may the best man win" but "may the most deserving man win". This is also part of the "digital culture" to be created in our country.
Founder, CEO and CTO of FacilityLive
This piece has been translated from its original source. As seen below, the article was originally published in Italian in 'Il Foglio Quotidiano' on 22 April 2016.