(NUMERAMA INTERVIEW) The European Commissioner responsible for digital and competition talks to us about the potential dangers of a virtual universe and the challenges facing the European Union in the cyber field.
Dubbed “the pet peeve of Silicon Valley”Margarthe Vestager follows closely web3 development — a decentralized Internet, based on blockchain technology — that tech giants would offer. The Danish commissioner, in charge of competition and digital, must also face the worst crisis that the continent has known since the Second World War with the war in ukraineand hopes that member states will stand together in the face of Moscow’s disinformation campaigns.
We met her at the International Cybersecurity Forum. Interview.
Numerama — After trying to regulate Facebook on the European market, should we already be looking at Meta’s ambitions in the virtual world?
Margarthe Vestager — Obviously. Even if it is still too early to talk about regulation, we must already imagine all the possible faults of a universe in virtual realityand there are a lot of them: user data, service security, targeted advertising, monitoring the sale of products… A virtual world controlled by a single company worries me. In fact, virtual reality is already a use. I’m not a gamer, but I know the VR is very present in the video game world and aims to expand. On this aspect, we can already think about the safety of users in this particular market.
The Cloud is also another sector dominated in Europe by the tech giants. Google, Microsoft and Amazon share 70% of the market. How could we leave a little room for the European champions?
We plan to give companies more freedom to switch cloud providers. The American giants offer attractive prices, of course. When all the IT hardware is installed, it becomes even more complicated to turn to a cloud provider, because it requires replacement costs. The goal would be for these large groups to facilitate the uninstallation of their equipment. This is part of the proposed Data Act passed in February 2022. I saw that Microsoft was already ready to go down this path.
Depending on the States, the legislations and the development of the sectors, it is sometimes mandatory to change contract and equipment. At that time, the customer could have more choices and in particular turn to more specialized European players, for example.
With Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, you talked about a financial contribution from the tech giants to 5G networks, how would this be articulated?
We are in a weak position in negotiations with these large groups, as their services have become so important in the European Union. However, these giants of which we speak are also those which massively use the Internet installations of the member countries. However, they do not participate in the investment in this network, they only benefit from it. We would like to find commercial agreements so that they fund these internet services. We need a lot of investment in the digital world, in the 5G network for exampleand there is nothing shocking in their contributing to it.
Many IT experts criticize the lack of a common cyber defense. Should member countries unite in this area in the face of the current Russian threat?
We may have lacked cohesion in the past, indeed. Some countries tend to turn to the United States, for example, when faced with a major incident. For the past year, we have been working on the Joint Cyber Unit, a common mutual assistance platform between member countries in this sector which should be fully operational next year. Private as well as administrative actors could cooperate and act together within the same structure.
The NIS2 directive, adopted in May, lays down a common set of cybersecurity rules. We ask companies to be more demanding in their protection, but also to communicate in the event of attacks against the authorities. This requires a cost, but financially, it is better to protect yourself now than to lose everything and take emergency measures immediately.
The European Union has been subjected to a disinformation campaign led by the Kremlin for several years, is it still possible to curb it today?
The Europeans are also at fault for letting Russia do it. We have witnessed so much manipulation organized by the Kremlin… There is a war in the Ukraine led by Moscow and at the same time a daily front in the field of information in Europe. In every news feed, in Twitter trends, we see Russian action. It is our duty to inform the population, with all possible means, about what is really happening in Ukraine.
Interview by Bogdan Bodnar
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Margrethe Vestager: “A virtual world controlled by a single company worries me”
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