Tech-driven change a key priority for new EC president


Image Credits: Picture Alliance (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has made responding to technology-driven change a key priority for her five year term which began last month, setting it in the same breath as challenges posed by climate change and demographic shifts, tacitly linking all three to a rise in regional unease.

Her solution, set out in a document entitled My Agenda for Europe, is a set of “headline ambitions” for the next five years — which include a Green Deal for Europe which she commits to proposing within her first 100 days in office; greater inclusion via “an economy that works for people,” and “a Europe fit for the digital age,” where innovation occurs “within safe and ethical boundaries.”

The program implies pan-EU economic changes; an update to industrial policy which includes substantial investment in strategic R&D such as clean technologies, and in infrastructure; plus regulation of digital technologies such as AI, as well as along an axis of fairness — which puts platforms and data monopolies in the frame.

“If we do our job well, the Europe of 2050 will be the first continent in the world to be carbon neutral,” Von der Leyen told the EU parliament, while laying out the ambition for the bloc to be “a leading digital power” with an economy that balances market forces and “social concern.”

Green Deal

“We will invest record amounts in cutting-edge research and innovation, using the full flexibility of the next EU budget to focus on the areas with the greatest potential,” wrote von der Leyen, ahead of taking up the mandate, setting out a plan for a European Green Deal that pledged to make the region “a world leader in circular economy and clean technologies.”

Speaking to the EU parliament ahead of the confirmatory vote, she described the Green Deal as Europe’s “new growth strategy,” saying it would require “massive investment” in “innovation, research, infrastructure, housing, and the training of people,” which would need to be funded by both the public and private sector at European and national levels.

“At the core of it will be an industrial strategy that enables our businesses — big and small — to innovate and to develop new technologies while creating new markets,” she told MEPs. “We will be global standard setters. This is our competitive advantage. And the best way to ensure a level-playing field.”

The strategy includes ramping up not just public but private investment in climate financing — with a goal of at least 50% of the European Investment Bank’s funds being dedicated to “green and sustainable” financing by 2025.

On the circular economy — which her Agenda identifies as Europe’s “future economic model” — she trails an action plan that will focus on sustainable resource use,  “especially in resource-intensive and high impact sectors such as textiles and construction”. She also urged measures to reduce plastic waste.

The overarching policy offer is a European Climate Law that will enshrine a 2050 climate neutrality target into law, with proposals to extend the emissions trading system to cover the maritime sector and to reduce free allowances allocated to airlines “over time.”

A Carbon Border Tax is also trailed, starting with “a number of selected sectors,” then “gradually extended,” along with a review of the Energy Taxation Directive which sets minimum excise duty rates EU Member States must apply to energy products for fuel and transport, and electricity.

A Biodiversity Strategy is another offer, along with a focus on “sustainable food” to support European farmers to transition to less environmentally costly production methods.

Von der Leyen’s plan also includes what’s couched as a “zero-pollution ambition,” although the document lacks specific targets — beyond a promise of “cross-cutting strategy to protect citizens’ health from environmental degradation and pollution.”

It’s notable that the green bloc in the EU parliament elected to abstain rather than back Von der Leyen’s Commission at the final vote — urging her to go further and faster to address the climate emergency, such as agricultural reforms, while saying they would be prepared to be a “constructive partner” to genuine environmental and social reforms.

Support for startups to scale up

Economic rewiring in the EC president’s five-year plan includes some encouraging words for entrepreneurs dreaming of scaling big.

“We need more young and nimble innovators with breakthrough technologies, like this generation’s tech giants were only a decade ago,” von der Leyen writes in a section of her Agenda on supporting small business which touts a “dedicated SME strategy” to cut red tape and improve market access for startups.

On developing the pan-EU growth finance market she commits to completing the Capital Markets Union — an initiative that’s intended to reduce fragmentation of capital access across the bloc and so shrink the costs of raising capital while widening the funding pipe.

She also wants to create a private-public fund specializing in Initial Public Offerings of SMEs — with the hope that private investors will come in to match an initial investment from the EU.

So late-stage startup financing is on the Commission’s radar.

Discussing the policy announcement, James Wise, partner at Balderton Capital, told us more funding in Europe would be welcome. “There is still a funding gap with the U.S. even if it is shrinking,” he suggested. However he also warned of too much focus being put on “overly financializing many assets classes in the last few decades, resulting in a cycle of boom and bust, and a focus on quarterly reports, not necessarily long term goals.”

“As a result we believe companies should go public at the right time for them, and not be pushed into exits by ‘quick-flip’ capital,” he said. “A bigger challenge for European start-ups isn’t necessarily access to capital, but capital markets which understand them. Many European banks have skeleton tech teams, while U.S. and Asian banks have whole departments focused on them. The lack of good equity analysts makes going public in Europe harder, hence the relative strength of U.S. indexes, and another later stage fund is unlikely to change this.”

Technological sovereignty

In remarks to the EU parliament, Von der Leyen also called for Europe to have “mastery and ownership of key technologies” — name-checking quantum computing, artificial intelligence, blockchain, “critical” chip technologies, and urging a pooling of resources, money, research capacity and knowledge in order for Europe to stake a claim to the leading edge of tech.

On the surface it sounds switched on to the potential of emerging technologies. Although quite how this buzzwordy big ambition will trickle down at the policy level — such as via investment distributed to strategic R&D — and so whether it will really make a difference to European startups working on emerging technologies remains to be seen.

At least Von der Leyen’s Commission can’t be accused of technical illiteracy.

In November 2019, Bloomberg reported that the Commission is planning a $3.9BN EU fund to launch in 2021 — and be run by the European Innovation Council — to support early stage ‘deep tech’ startups working in areas such as biotech, health tech and AI. (Although the size of the fund remains tbc, as it’s dependent on the outcome of budget talks.)

“It may be too late to replicate hyperscalers, but it is not too late to achieve technological sovereignty in some critical technology areas,” is Von der Leyen’s suggestion, with supercomputing citied as an exemplar.

She appears to be spreading her bets on the next tech paradigm shift, saying “we will invest in blockchain, high-performance computing, quantum computing, algorithms and tools to allow data sharing and data usage”.

Another pledge is to push for jointly defined standards, such as for 5G — and for what she calls “this new generation of technologies that will become the global norm.”

She also wants to update the Digital Education Action Plan to increase access to digital literacy for young people and reskilling adults, such as by increasing the use of MOOCs (massively open online courses) in the area of digital skills — to “get Europe up to speed.”

The new Commission also has its eye on developments in the cryptocurrency space. This month the European Council and Commission issued a joint statement on so-called stablecoins — such as Facebook’s planned global digital currency, Libra — essentially saying such efforts will be barred from launching in the region ahead of a common EU regulatory framework being put in place to mitigate any risks.

“We reaffirm our willingness to appropriately tackle the challenges raised by these initiatives on the basis of an EU common understanding and coordinated approach,” they wrote. “These initiatives should not undermine existing financial and monetary order as well as monetary sovereignty in the European Union.

“While the Council and the Commission are committed to put in place a framework that will harness the potential opportunities that crypto-assets may offer, we acknowledge the risks that some present. The Council and the Commission are prepared to take all necessary measures to ensure appropriate standards of consumer protection and orderly monetary and financial conditions. All options should be on the table, including any measures to prevent the creation of unmanageable risks by certain global ‘stablecoins.’”

Gig economy rights

Having a headline ambition of “an economy that works for people” naturally raises the question of gig economy workers and their rights. Under app-based algorithmic management, the category has faced a number of legal challenges in Europe, such as Uber’s UK business losing a challenge to its classification of a group of drivers as self-employed contractors at an employment tribunal in 2016 — and all subsequent appeals.

Von der Leyen’s Agenda acknowledges concerns over platform workers’ rights — with the EC president recognizing that “digital transformation brings fast change that affects our labour markets.”

She goes on to say she will “look at ways of improving the labour conditions of platform workers, notably by focusing on skills and education.”

Although, set alongside another pledge in the document — that within the first 100 days of her mandate she will propose “a legal instrument to ensure that every worker in our Union has a fair minimum wage” — it seems a fairly weak headline offer for platform workers.

Upskilling as an escape from exploitative business models does seem to put the onus on the individual gig worker to improve their lot — rather than on platform giants, whose businesses are only possible thanks to a massive volume of cheap ‘contract-free’ labour, to offer a fairer deal.

Mark Tluszcz, CEO at VC firm Mangrove Capital Partners — and a long-time critic of gig economy business models — told TechCrunch that “the focus on skills and education is an interesting one. There isn’t a whole lot of opportunity for career progression for many platform workers — they report to their mobile and rarely engage with the core team. So these companies could become a significant barrier to social mobility if left to their own devices.

“If we are to create a fair society with equal opportunity for all, then it’s also important that gig economy workers have the appropriate rights and protections. But gig economy companies should also contribute in the same way that other businesses pay employee taxes, even if on a pro rata basis. Closing down the loopholes will ensure that platform companies don’t have unfair advantage to undercut the competition and create monopolistic markets.”

A more powerful-sounding policy offer for gig workers comes via Margrethe Vestager — Von der Leyen’s pick for executive vice-president for “a Europe fit for the digital age,” as well as continuing as competition commissioner — who has voiced support for gig economy workers to have collective bargaining rights.

Vestager said she will seek to ensure competition rules do not impede platforms workers from forming a union to negotiate over their pay and conditions.

Threat of a big tech tax

Von der Leyen does have her eye on digital business models where tax reform is concerned, though. EU and international corporate tax are in “urgent need of reform,” she writes. “They are not fit for the realities of the modern global economy and do not capture the new business models in the digital world.”

This is a key plank of the planned economic rewiring: digital tax reform.

Here she takes direct aim at tech giants, saying Europe won’t wait for a global consensus to emerge on how to tackle the problem of “a fair digital tax” and will, by the end of 2020, be prepared to go it alone.

Though she’s careful not to overpromise given the scale of the challenge; tax reform proposals would be put forward in the first half of the mandate, is the only concrete pledge going in.

The really hard work here will be on getting agreement from all EU Member States to any rebalancing of the taxation system, given that each has veto power and some (such as Ireland) apply low or zero corporate tax rates to pull in multinationals.

But with some individual countries — such as France and the UK — starting to take unilateral steps in response to domestic pressure over the tech giant tax issue there are new pressures being brought to bear which the Commission could leverage to settle on a pan-EU fix.

Vestager was questioned about the issue of digital tax reform during a session in front of the EU parliament — and signaled support for exploring the possibility of amending Article 116 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, which relates to competition-based distortion of the internal market, in order to enable tax reform to be passed by a qualified majority, instead of unanimously.

“Definitely we should start exploring what would that entail,” she told MEPs, adding, “I don’t think it’s a given that it would be successful, but it’s important that we take the different tools that the treaty gives us and use these tools if need be.”

This issue may only bubble under, given the challenges involved in getting agreement on pan-EU tax reform, but it certainly won’t be going away over the next five years.

Digitalization and AI — plus ethics

Von der Leyen’s Agenda is big on the benefits of Europe embracing digital technology. She talks about data and AI being “the ingredients for innovation that can help us to find solutions to societal challenges, from health to farming, from security to manufacturing.”

To the EU parliament she was more blunt, telling MEPs “there is no future without digitalization.”

“Digitalization will enable us to handle resources more effectively and more efficiently, because we will be able to calibrate everything precisely: water consumption, energy, all the precious resources of our planet,” she also writes on the benefits.

“We will automate work that is wearisome for us humans: carrying heavy loads, performing repetitive tasks in factories or in offices. And this will give us time. Time for what distinguishes human beings. Time for what computers can’t do: empathy and creativity.”

To this end, her agenda makes a clear push for more non-personal data-sharing between the public and private sector. “We must establish a framework to enable governments and companies to share data and to pool it securely,” she also told MEPs, adding: “today, 85% of all non personal data is never used at all. This is a waste.”

There is also a pledge to prioritise investments in AI — through the Multiannual Financial Framework and increased use of public-private partnerships.

At the same time, this full-throttle ambition to digitize and apply AI — to upgrade and/or automate the dull and the difficult — is offered with an up-front commitment to fast-track a regulatory framework to ensure tech-fueled disruption works to serve Europe’s people, values and society.

So not just more tech; but more tech properly regulated so it’s purposefully applied under a set of very European rules.

“In order to release that potential we have to find our European way, balancing the flow and wide use of data while preserving high privacy, security, safety and ethical standards,” she writes, suggesting the bloc’s existing General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as a model framework for technology-focused standard setting with geopolitical bite.

“With the GDPR we set the pattern for the world,” she told the European parliament in November. “We have to do the same with artificial intelligence. Because in Europe we start with the human being. It is not about damming up the flow of data. It is about making rules that define how to handle data responsibly. For us the protection of a person’s digital identity is the overriding priority.”

Vestager — who heads up the digitalization mandate in Von der Leyen’s Commission, in addition to continuing in post as Europe’s antitrust chief for another five years — has also spoken at length of making sure AI is used ethically and “with a purpose”, to “support human decisions and not undermine them.”

Their views appear very closely aligned.

In her first 100 days in office Von der Leyen has pledged to publish legislative proposals for “a coordinated European approach on the human and ethical implications of Artificial Intelligence” — with the full support of Vestager who has said a strategy for AI must be got off the ground at speed.

“We have to listen fast,” she told MEPs, when questioned about devising rules for “AI you can trust.” “We have to talk with a lot of different people in order to get it right. But it is a reflection of the fact that we are in hurry.”

There is existing work for the Commission to draw on for the planned legislation — in the form of an assessment list and the principles recommended by the Commission’s High Level Expert Group on AI — which calls, among other things, for an outright ban on “AI-enabled mass scale scoring of individuals,” and urges governments to commit to not engage in blanket surveillance of populations for national security purposes.

Per an internal document obtained by Politico last month, the Commission’s proposals for regulating AI include a law on liability for “damage caused by AI application,” slated for introduction in late 2020.

However there’s at least one potential curve-ball looming on regulating AI.

The commissioner for the internal market portfolio, France’s Thierry Breton — who was not Von der Leyen’s original pick for the brief — told MEPs during his confirmation hearing that he does want to rush to regulate. (“I am not saying we will have regulation on AI in the first 100 days. I won’t be the voice of regulation on AI,” he said, via Politico.)

However if the weight of the Commission is in favor of proactive regulation, Breton may well find himself outvoted, outranked and outgunned on the issue.

Tackling platform power

Vestager has attracted a reputation as a tech giant slayer during her first tenure in office as the Commission’s antitrust chief. Though the truth — much like her famed passion for knitting — is far more intricate and measured. “My obligation is to ensure that we do the least intrusive thing in order to make competition come back,” she has said.

If she’s going to slay big tech, it won’t be by hacking heads off. She’s been consistent and clear that she’s not gunning to break up platform giants because she doesn’t think that would necessarily fix anything.

Rather it’ll be death of data-fuelled dominion and a taming of platform power by market reorganization via the application of savvy operational restrictions, likely in areas such as fairness and on what can be done with people’s data.

“We may… need to regulate the way that companies collect and use and share data — so it benefits the whole of our society,” Vestager told MEPs ahead of their vote to confirm her in post, signaling a willingness to rethink the rules to take account of the giants whose businesses are fueled by other people’s information.

“[There are] different ways of trying to re-organize a marketplace if the competition authority finds that the way it’s working is not beneficial for fair competition,” she added. “Those are tools that can be considered in order to sort of ‘re-organize’ before harm is done… [and] give very direct, almost, orders… as to how a market should be organized.”

Her record after five years as EU competition commissioner is certainly one of taking on big tech. She has done huge amounts to raise the issue of fairness in a platform-dominated world. More tech giants are also now on her office’s radar — for what’s an unprecedented second turn in the antirust chair — including a formal probe of Amazon’s use of merchant data; and searching questions now being fired at Apple and Facebook which could crystalize into something more solid next year.

But her results to date remain mixed, as she herself has conceded.

Google rivals are still crying loudly for relief, for example — despite headline-grabbing fines and enforcement orders against products like Android, Google Shopping and AdSense. While Google’s marketshare remains undimmed. It’s not exactly a clean result.

“We have to consider remedies that are much more far reaching,” she told the European parliament last fall, citing the AdSense case as one where her intervention has failed to boost competition. “Fines are not doing the trick and fines are not enough.”

What those more far-reaching remedies might be remains to be seen.

In a recent interview with mLex Market Insight, Vestager suggested she’s still not settled on how exactly to adapt competition law to meet the challenge of digital market power.

One suggestion she’s floated recently is enforcing data sharing between platforms as a tool to restore “lost competition,” though how that policy would mesh with EU data protection rules is unclear.

She has also started gathering data on the data gatherers — with preliminary investigations reported this month into Google’s and Facebook’s data practices.

But going into the next five years, there’s still a question mark over how she will carry forward the review of competition policy initiated towards the end of her last term as competition commissioner.

Any changes to antitrust law she determines necessary would also require buy-in from EU Member States and the parliament — all of which would take time. Quick fixes seem especially challenging in the absence of a clearly articulated case.

On competition she’s also looking to do more with the powers she has. One notable recent development is her use of interim powers in an ongoing case against chipmaker broadcom.

It’s an existing power the Commission had not used for some two decades before Vestager dusted it off. She flagged its use to MEPs this fall, saying she wanted her office to be able to work “as fast as possible.” Although she also cautioned that interim measures have “quite substantial conditions” which must be met to use — and in the case of digital markets stressed that the issue remains how to identify (i.e. define) harm.

A new development she has said will accompany her expanded EVP role is “generalized” data-sharing between the competition office, leveraging knowledge gained via investigations of market complaints, and the team working with her digital mandate — with a plan to share hands-on market intelligence to feed policy decisions as she shapes pan-EU legislation.

Data-led policy decisions to better rule tech giants? There is more than a little cunningly knitted irony there.

She has also particularly lauded work done by the last Commission on regulating online platforms’ fairness and transparency towards third parties — suggesting that such measures can help offer market relief too. (The regulation, which was adopted in February, is due to come into force late in 2020 or early 2021.)

Vestager now has another five years to work on figuring out the pressing question of how to tame big tech by tackling “competition for a market, not just in a market.” Although she’s going in with a sense of haste — talking of the need to work carefully but quickly — and with a record for setting a novel pace that’s since been picked up by competition commissioners elsewhere.

Regulators in many markets are facing major pressure over the issue of big tech. Too much policy procrastination risks being seen as sustaining market failure — which Vestager will be acutely aware of, having already had five years on the job.

Rethinking platform liability

One of the first acts on Vestager’s plate, in her expanded EVP role setting pan-EU digital strategy, is a Digital Service Act. Von der Leyen has written that this will “upgrade” liability and safety rules for digital platforms, services and products — so the focus looks to be on modernizing the bloc’s approach to online harms.

The UK government has already set out a domestic plan for regulating Internet companies related to a range of harms. Even as other Member States have set firm rules in specific areas like online hate speech takedowns.

The Commission is putting itself next in line to open what will certainly be a pandora’s box of controversial and divisive issues — from hate speech and disinformation to fairness and transparency in ecommerce to regulating the honesty of online political ads.

One major question here will be how the Digital Service Act defines online “harms.” After all, one person’s harm is another’s free expression, which suggests a tricky rights-balancing act is looming.

A leaked internal document last summer suggested the Commission is preparing to reopen or even entirely replace the existing E-commerce Directive — which exempts platforms from liability over content posted by users — with the planned Digital Service Act.

Per the leak, the latter is slated to cover a wide range of platforms from social networks to cloud services to the likes of Uber and Airbnb and also ISPs, as well as applying to both illegal and harmful content, and having an interesting possible requirement that they must open their services to others. (Though clearly the proposed legislation was still very much a work in progress at that point.)

One fundamental question will be whether the Commission lifts or further weakens a ban on applying a general monitoring obligation to platforms to force them to screen for problem content online.

There have already been moves in this direction by EU institutions that have alarmed critics on free speech grounds — such as a controversial digital copyright reform which could push platforms to pre-filter uploads to shrink their copyright risk. Another Commission proposal related to terrorist content appears to be pushing platforms in a similar direction.

Yet, at the same time, European law makes privacy a fundamental right for citizens — and the region’s courts have a strong record in defending that.

Navigating this regulatory and legal puzzle is one of the first jobs the new Commission is setting itself to tackle.

Vestager has said a key aim for the Digital Service Act is building trust in online services. But the devil really will be in the detail of the proposal — and how much support the Commission can marshal for it. Not least as there seems a high risk of divisive debates (such as the copyright reform) being reopened afresh.

Packing a lot into the Act may be part of the planned strategy to try to win majority support. Though, equally, trying to address too many issues could backfire.

Von der Leyen’s Agenda also includes a section highlighting online threats to democracy, in which she writes: “Our democratic systems and institutions have come increasingly under attack in recent years from those who wish to divide and destabilize our Union. We need to do more to protect ourselves from external interference. Digital platforms are actors of progress for people, societies and economies. To preserve this progress, we need to ensure that they are not used to destabilize our democracies.”

Here she advocates for developing “a joint approach and common standards to tackle issues such as disinformation and online hate messages,” pledging a European Democracy Action Plan which she says will address threats of external intervention in European elections.

This will include “legislative proposals to ensure greater transparency on paid political advertising and clearer rules on the financing of European political parties,” she says.

She has also named cyber security as a “top priority” for her presidency — calling for more knowledge sharing between Member States, via a joint Cyber Unit, a “common platform” and enhancements to the European Cybersecurity Agency.

Rebooting ePrivacy

Another important legislative question-mark looms over the fate of the stalled ePrivacy reform — which, in the originally intended vision for the regulation, was set to expand protections for consumers by covering the content of online communications and putting hard limits on intrusive tracking technologies like cookies.

However this has so far been blocked by EU Member States, subject to so much frenzied industry lobbying they’ve peppered the text with surveillance loopholes and kept blocking its passage.

Vestager has voiced support for ePrivacy’s original vision, telling MEPs that passing the reform will be “high priority.”

But there’s now an open question over how the Commission takes that forward. One possibility might be to withdraw the current text that’s failed to win backing from Member States and try to recast the aims of the regulation in the Digital Service Act. Albeit with the risk of attracting the same frenzied lobbying to a flagship legislative plan.

Last month, Breton suggested the Commission could table a new ePrivacy proposal.

One thing is clear: unless the new Commission is willing to take on rights-abusing tracking and targeting business models it’s hard to see how it can deliver on promises to make technology more “human” and trustworthy.

Vestager has certainly advocated for doing more to empower consumers to protect themselves online — including by encouraging pro-privacy choices to come into the market — discussing, for example, her frustration with trying to take up rights she knows she has when that translates to having to read endless and frustrating T&Cs.

“We still have to do more for people to feel empowered to protect themselves,” she told the European parliament this fall, saying that national authorities “must enforce” GDPR “in full.”

That’s a pretty clear signal to data protection agencies, such as Ireland’s Data Protection Commission — which is the lead regulator for most of big tech in Europe, to screw its courage to the sticking place and act on multiple strategic complaints still sitting on its desk.

However asked directly by MEPs whether she’s willing to tackle the “surveillance capitalism” business model Vestager did not give a clear or straight answer, suggesting that a politically pragmatic desire to be able to do something — to bring consumers some relief — may win out over pushing for more radical measures to nip privacy abuse in the bud at the business model source.

As ever, where online privacy is concerned, the consumer pull for stronger protection faces vigorous push back from vested interests — corporate, as well as state security agendas — that want to be able to do what they like with people’s data.

But with a key pledge of the Von der Leyen Commission’s being to apply European values to regulate increasingly powerful digital technologies, and ensure Internet services are working for not against EU citizens, there’s a genuine imperative for it to grasp this nettle.

More practical data protection

Wojtek Wiewiorowski, Europe’s new lead data regulator — aka the European data protection supervisor (EDPS) — was officially confirmed in post in December. He was already working as deputy to Giovanni Buttarelli. A strategy for his five-year mandate is expected to be published in March.

During his final pitch for the job in front of the EU parliament’s Libe committee, Wiewiorowski signaled an intent to offer more practical guidance to EU institutions in support of the legislative and compliance process.

At a hearing in November, he said he would like the EDPS to provide more technical advice than it has previously, saying he would ramp up diversity of his team — including on the expertise front, noting a recent hire of its first data scientist.

Having more in-house technical skills would be important “to understand how data is used in the market” and “the new solutions” coming down the pipe, such as “quantum computing, edge computing, transhumanism, and human-to-computer interface,” he also told MEPs.

Technical skills will also be core to the EDPS helping deliver “real enforcement” of existing EU data protection rules, he further suggested, by being able to offer not just legal analysis but practical advice — technical and organizational — in the consultancy work it does for EU institutions.

A practical example he gave was a recently convened forum of EU institutions which has helped secure pro-privacy contractual changes from cloud giant Microsoft. Wiewiorowski said he wants to see more such public sector joint-working to drive compliance with data rules.

“I would like to live in a world where this standard that we have in data protection in Europe is recognized as something that might be the advantage on the market and maybe used in the innovative way in the market,” he told MEPs. “So I would like to have institutions of Europe leading by example but leading as the smart administration; smart meaning being able to use the new technologies and the new developments and the innovations to do the things better than so far.”

Asked about the role of existing EU data protection rules, GDPR and ePrivacy, in the development and supervision of artificial intelligence technologies — and whether additional measures might be necessary to regulate them — he voiced support for first checking “what we have and what we can use.”

“GDPR is one of the legal acts that may cover a lot of requirements and a lot of expectations towards the regulation of artificial intelligence, especially with data protection impact assessment done in the right way,” he said.

But he also pointed to gaps — which he said “are not regulated in the right way” and that “we have to deal with” — especially around algorithmic transparency/explainability which he suggested can’t necessarily be covered by the GDPR.

Existing approaches to managing expert rule-based systems could offer a potential model for supervising AI, he also suggested.

“I’m not a big fan of discussion about the ownership of data, and ownership of the information,” he also said, setting out more of his views in his pitch to MEPs and pointing out that the civil law notion of “being able to sell something, to abandon something, to share something… doesn’t work that much with the data.”

In concluding remarks he had this reminder to the parliament that: “We are not protecting the data, we are protecting the human being. The protecting of the data is only the tool to achieve this final goal.”

More TechCrunch

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine.”

Scarlett Johansson says that OpenAI approached her to use her voice

A new self-driving truck — manufactured by Volvo and loaded with autonomous vehicle tech developed by Aurora Innovation — could be on public highways as early as this summer.  The…

Aurora and Volvo unveil self-driving truck designed for a driverless future

The European venture capital firm raised its fourth fund as fund as climate tech “comes of age.”

ETF Partners raises €284M for climate startups that will be effective quickly — not 20 years down the road

Copilot, Microsoft’s brand of generative AI, will soon be far more deeply integrated into the Windows 11 experience.

Microsoft wants to make Windows an AI operating system, launches Copilot+ PCs

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. For those who haven’t heard, the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been pushed back yet again to no earlier than…

TechCrunch Space: Star(side)liner

When I attended Automate in Chicago a few weeks back, multiple people thanked me for TechCrunch’s semi-regular robotics job report. It’s always edifying to get that feedback in person. While…

These 81 robotics companies are hiring

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

1 day ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions