Feb 20, 2020 - Technology

EU stakes out positions on regulating data, artificial intelligence

Illustration of European Union statue with her hand extending into a phone
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The European Commission released long-awaited position papers Wednesday on several key digital issues, including how to treat the continent's digital data and how best to regulate artificial intelligence.

Why it matters: Europe has traditionally trailed the U.S. in creating giant tech companies that gobble up consumer data, but it has led in issuing rules and policies to govern such practices.

The European Data Strategy and the AI recommendations have themes will be familiar.

  • As has long been the case, the EU is hoping to offer broader protection to its citizens while also fostering a more competitive European tech ecosystem.

What they're saying: Not surprisingly, many trade groups released statements praising the goals of the proposals, while urging restraint in regulation.

  • Guido Lobrano, ITI's VP for European policy: "For Europe to fully realize its tech leadership potential, it should take a collaborative approach to regulation and avoid prescriptive policies that could stifle innovation in emerging areas like artificial intelligence."
  • Thomas Boué, director general of BSA — The Software Alliance: "Today's strategies help set a clear path forward for companies, governments, and citizens to benefit from responsible, software-powered technologies across Europe. ... The upcoming broad consultations will be key to building trust and ensuring that new rules on data-driven technologies are transparent, fair, and fit for purpose."

Meanwhile: Cornell business professor Thomas Jungbauer argues the proposals aren't what's needed to help Europe catch up.

  • "Network effects and technological factors are responsible for many of the markets in the tech and sharing economy to be 'winner-takes-most' scenarios, that is markets in which a big firm dominates with other smaller players serving niche needs."

What's next: The tech giants all have a new decision to make: How to treat the data of users in the U.K., post-Brexit. Reuters reports that Google is likely to move U.K. customers to U.S. rules, thereby avoiding Europe's stricter data protections and heavier consequences for violations.

Go deeper: An international push for AI ethics

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