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Big Tech Overshadows EU-US Talks

Big Tech Overshadows EU-US Talks

The US and EU officially pledged in Brussels on Tuesday “to promote innovation and leadership by US and European firms”, but America fears this may not include its biggest tech companies: Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft.

The US, in fact, warned the EU against pursuing “protectionist” technology policies that exclusively target American companies, ahead of Joe Biden’s first presidential visit to Brussels, according to this FT scoop.

The National Security Council wrote last week to complain about the tone of recent comments about the EU’s Digital Markets Act — the draft legislation that aims to curb the power of Big Tech. “We are particularly concerned about recent comments by the European Parliament rapporteur for the Digital Markets Act, Andreas Schwab, who suggested the DMA should unquestionably target only the five biggest US firms,” the NSC said.

It may have been reassured by today’s agreement “to establish an EU-US Joint Technology Competition Policy Dialogue that would focus on approaches to competition policy and enforcement and increased co-operation in the tech sector”.

Also, in a move seen as countering China’s tech advances, today’s Brussels meeting set up a high-level EU-US Trade and Technology Council, with goals that included “to avoid new unnecessary technical barriers to trade . . . to facilitate regulatory policy and enforcement co-operation and, where possible, convergence”.

Initially, working groups will focus on tech standards for AI and the Internet of Things, and on strengthening supply chains. “Notably, we commit to building an EU-US partnership on the rebalancing of global supply chains in semiconductors with a view to enhancing EU and US respective security of supply as well as capacity to design and produce the most powerful and resource-efficient semiconductors,” said their joint statement.

It appears the Biden administration will fight for the Big Five to be fairly treated in Europe while giving them a hard time at home. Today, the Senate confirmed the White House’s nominee Lina Khan — an outspoken critic of Amazon — as the Federal Trade Commission’s newest member. Lex says she may shape a new era of antitrust policy, although the break-up of tech companies is not inevitable.

The Internet of (Five) Things

  1. From Russia with lies

A meeting with Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday marks the final stage of President Biden’s European tour. Today’s Big Read looks at a new era of information warfare, with the US convinced Russia is using disinformation to weaken support for democracy.

2. Father of web’s NFT offspring

Sir Tim Berners-Lee is auctioning his original source code for the web in the form of a “non-fungible token”, as digital collectibles continue to fetch millions of dollars. The auction at Sotheby’s will be the first time that Berners-Lee has been able to raise money directly from one of the greatest inventions of the modern era, with the proceeds benefiting initiatives that he and his wife Rosemary support.

3. VC spring for Chinese start-ups

After two years of struggling to raise money, Chinese start-ups are seeing interest from venture capitalists pick up again, as the boom in the US crosses over the pacific. The number of venture deals in China rose 56 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, the fourth consecutive quarter of rising activity, as start-ups pulled in Rmb354bn ($55bn) in investment.

4. Hopin cash-in for founder

The founder of Hopin, one of the fastest-growing tech start-ups ever, has sold about £100m of shares over the past year as the video conferencing company’s valuation has rocketed. Johnny Boufarhat, who launched Hopin two years ago, has sold almost 17 percent of his stake for between £96m and 130m, according to an FT analysis of public filings.

5. Vivendi attracts activist interest

Activist investor Third Point has built a stake in Vivendi, the media group controlled by French billionaire Vincent Bolloré. Lex says one attraction may be hostility among some independent shareholders to Vivendi’s plan for a complicated demerger of the world’s biggest music label, Universal Music Group.