Jul 6, 2019

Steve Weber Says the US Will Follow the EU’s Lead in Tech Regulation

From The Telegraph

Is Europe winning the argument on how to regulate big tech?

By Laurence Dodds and Olivia Rudgard

It was not a statement one would expect to hear from the head of a huge Silicon Valley company. American tech firms have traditionally opposed regulation, and scorned the efforts of European countries to bring them to heel. Yet here was Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, telling a data protection conference in Brussels last year: “It is time for the rest of the world, including my home country, to follow your lead...”

According to Steve Weber, a professor at the Berkeley School of Information, GDPR has served “as a big signal that governments can do this, and as a lodestar” for how it can be done. He says the CCPA was “clearly inspired” by European laws – even if many people who discuss it “don’t actually know what it is...”

This global wave is ultimately why tech giants have changed their tune. “These folks are past the point of believing they can continue to exist in this splendid, permission-less isolation,” says Weber. “Maybe two years ago people would say, ‘look, we're in a short-term storm and if we can just ride that out, we can do whatever we want to do.’ That train has left the station, and now the sense is that if there's going to be meaningful regulation then let's shape that regulation in a way that helps us...”

Ultimately, Weber believes that European tech laws will continue to influence American politics – but not necessarily in the way Martin Selmayr might hope. “Europe plays this weird shadow reality role in American thinking,” he says. “Two years ago we were saying that the Europeans were going to hamstring themselves with GDPR, they’re going to set back the development of AI by years, and they don’t understand the digital economy. Now that we have come around to the idea that we should do something, we idealise the Europeans: ‘wow, they’ve figured it out!’”

In his view, the US has arrived at this regulatory moment for its own reasons (such as liberal backlash against the role of Facebook in the election of Donald Trump), and the spectre of Europe is an easily available crutch.

In fact, Weber argues that even though US politicians have more power to regulate tech giants than the EU, they might be less willing to do so because they depend on Silicon Valley – for job creation, economic growth, a buoyant stock market and, naturally, campaign contributions.


Steven Weber is a professor in the UC Berkeley School of Information and Faculty Director of the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity. 

Last updated:

July 9, 2019