The EU isn’t just concerned with today. It’s really taking Steve Jobs’ advice and listening to the Wayne Gretzky quote: it’s skating to where the puck is going, not where it’s been. Its aim is to ensure that two very large companies don’t own the market for smartphones to such a degree they can determine everything that happens in those markets, to their advantage. The EU is a capitalist body: its obsession is keeping markets open, and it will do anything it needs to do to make sure that happens.

From here in the USA, it looks to me like we need to put our understanding of European privacy and competition policy into context. We seem to spend a lot of time in the weeds trying to figure out what will be allowed by specific laws and regulations, and maybe we’re missing the big picture. From here, it looks like the EU has two really big problems.

  • The EU’s most important problem is climate change, including the problem of climate refugees. Worst case is that Europe has to rebuild their infrastructure and agriculture while somehow dealing with 1.2 billion people who need to move there because their old home is unlivable now. None of the ways that the EU can address this problem are going to make everybody happy, and the EU somehow has to do them in a decentralized democratic system.
  • The EU’s most urgent problem is that Europe is being invaded by Russia—regular Russian forces in several eastern European countries, and economic, information, and network warfare clearing the way for them further west. Also a hard problem, partly because of the Putin regime’s ability to work the political system.

Big Tech isn’t in trouble in Europe because companies are failing to comply whatever the EU laws are today. They’re in trouble because they’re more of a part of the problem than a part of the solution on the big issues. The EU says that they want social media companies to hire factcheckers to fight election fake news, they opened up a bunch of competition cases on platform companies, and, of course, they’re going to shut down Meta’s bogus pay or consent policy. if the pay or consent model actually worked it would turn the whole GDPR into a no-op. Every vending machine would have pay €2 and consent and pay €1002, no consent buttons. Pay or consent is not going to hold up in court but the Meta team that deployed it have already collected their bonuses and moved on.

But it’s not about the individual cases. If the EU throws the book at a Big Tech company, and the company successfully dodges it, what happens is that the EU makes a heavier book and throws harder. As long as a company is working for the Russians, for the fossil-fuel industry, and for divisive right-wing groups (yes, they overlap) then they’re going to have a problem in the EU. Someone in the EU is probably also reading the history of the US Republican party and direct mail—a party that had been a coalition of defense, free-market, and social conservative factions rapidly pivoted in the post-Goldwater years based on what works as direct mail (and now email and social media) copy. In the USA, it looks like direct mail, personalized, and surveillance advertising give advantages to fear-based and racially divisive messsages that would work less well in other media. If that applies in Europe too, a crackdown on the surveillance industry makes sense even outside the context of the coming post-surveillance economic boom.

And yes, there’s an Al Capone effect going on here. The same Big Tech management teams that reward sexual harassment with big checks are also willing to monetize scams hosted in adversary countries and copyright-infringing sites run from adversary countries. I still don’t understand the appeal of Vladimir Putin fandom among tech thought leaders, but it’s there—and as long it persists, climate change and European security are the underlying problems for Big Tech in Europe, not any specific policies.


Opting out of doing 2024 predictions

privacy economics sources

banning surveillance advertising

some ways that Facebook ads are optimized for deceptive advertising

Bonus links

Amazon loses EU court bid to delay digital rules on online ads

No, the West is not to blame for Russia’s war in Ukraine. Why this myth – and others – are so difficult to dispel

EU signals doubts over legality of Meta’s privacy fee

Google fined €250m in France for breaching intellectual property deal

Tracking ads industry faces another body blow in the EU

For the first time ever, Ukraine has passed the winter heating season relying exclusively on domestic gas

Now the EU is asking questions about Meta’s ‘pay or be tracked’ consent model

Google hit with €2.1B lawsuit from more than 30 European media companies

Meta’s pay-or-consent model hides ‘massive illegal data processing ops’: lawsuit