Europe should set global standards for tougher regulation of digital technology, finding a way between an excessively lax United States and an over-restrictive China, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday.
Addressing the bosses of US giants Microsoft and IBM at a Paris technology conference, Macron said the European Union’s new data privacy regulation, known as GDPR, demonstrated Europe’s ability (EU) to lead the way.
“For me, the US model is not sustainable because there’s no political accountability,” Macron said, adding that US tech rules had been driven by corporate interests.
Speaking in English, he continued, “On the other side, you have a very strong Chinese model. But this model has not the same values as the ones we have.” The Chinese model was, he said, “over-centralised”.
The young French leader has openly courted investments in artificial intelligence and “deep tech” since his election last year, pitching himself as a champion of the younger plugged-in generation and start-up enterprises.
However, he wants tech companies to do more for the “common good” in society and has led European efforts to force Google, Amazon, Facebook Inc and Apple Inc (GAFAs) to pay more tax at the source of revenue.
He has also pressed tech giants to fight harder against abuse of personal data as well as the dissemination of fake news on social media.
His proposals have been slow to gain traction so far, with his GAFA tax plan dividing EU member states, while Berlin, London and Rome have been preoccupied by domestic politics over the past year.
Macron told the VivaTech conference that citizens around the world were demanding better protection from their governments and that failing to act could be politically destabilising.
He also said there was a risk that China would fill the void.
“I don’t want my people, my citizens, my start-ups being regulated under de-facto dominance of a sort of a Chinese regulation,” Macron said.
Macron, a former banker, hailed GDPR as a “big step forward”. The EU regulation, which comes into effect on Friday, will cover companies that collect large amounts of customer data including Facebook and Alphabet’s Google.
It is designed to give EU citizens more rights to control the use of their personal data online and has a slew of demanding requirements.
On Thursday, Macron held one-on-one meetings with several CEOs including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, IBM’s Ginni Rometty, and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella.
Macron told Europe 1 radio that he and Zuckerberg had agreed to work together on new rules to fight hate speech online.
“We gave ourselves six months (to work on this),” he said. “I also told him that France would push for European regulation, as we can’t bet on the mere goodwill of companies alone.”