The Coronavirus and the Future of Big Tech

By Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker

“She hates the United States perhaps worse than any person I’ve ever met.” This was President Trump’s assessment of Margrethe Vestager, the Danish politician who, as the Commissioner for Competition, leads the European Union’s antitrust division. Over the past five years, Vestager has become known for her attempts to regulate the tech industry. Her office’s investigations of Apple, Facebook, and Google have resulted in billions of dollars in fines for anti-competitive behavior and tax avoidance, garnering praise from those concerned about big tech’s power, as well as complaints from business leaders and some American politicians.

When Vestager’s second term began, in November, 2019, her job expanded to include digital policymaking for the European Union. In addition to enforcing antitrust laws, Vestager now oversees policy related to cybersecurity, big data, and artificial intelligence. In recent months, the spread of covid-19 has presented a number of challenges for Vestager’s office, including widespread unemployment, pharmaceutical price-gouging, and the use of digital technology to track the virus.

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Vestager has also warned of potential Chinese takeovers of European businesses in response to the economic conditions brought about by the coronavirus.

I recently spoke by phone with Vestager. During our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed how the coronavirus may force a trade-off between privacy and health, her disagreements with Elizabeth Warren about how to regulate the tech industry, and whether politicians make the best technocrats.

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