EU Tech News: Reining in Big Tech, Artifical Intelligence, European Battery Alliance

Written by | Thursday, February 4th, 2021

The European Union has suggested a common rule book to rein in the power of Big Tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter and combat the spread of fake news on social media that is eating away at Western democracies. In a speech to the Davos World Economic Forum, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen urged the Biden administration to join forces against “the darker sides of the digital world,” which she said was partly behind the “shock” storming of Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, in early January. She urged the White House to join the 27-nation bloc’s efforts, saying that “together, we could create a digital economy rule book that is valid worldwide,” and would encompass data protection, privacy rules and the security of critical infrastructure. In December, the European Commission proposed two new pieces of EU legislation to better protect consumers and their rights online, make tech platforms more accountable and improve digital competition. Von der Leyen also referred to the decision by Facebook and Twitter to permanently suspend former US President Donald Trump from their platforms just days before leaving the White House for allegedly inciting the assault on the US Capitol, an unprecedented step that underscored the immense power of tech giants to regulate speech.
The EU’s attempts to regulate Artificial Intelligence could be met with future challenges resulting from an agreement on e-commerce at the level of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), according to a new study published last week (26 January). Talks have been ongoing since January 2019 between members of the WTO in a bid to agree on global rules to facilitate worldwide e-commerce transactions. However, concerns have been highlighted that the text currently backed by the EU could result in a prohibition on signatories from adopting legislation that obliges firms to provide access to the source code of their software. To that end, a report published by the Federation of German Consumer Organisations argues that a number of EU objectives in the field of digital policy currently on the table could be stifled by the WTO agreement. The paper states that EU moves such as these would help to increase accountability and ensure that EU consumer rights are complied with. However, “the source code clause in trade agreements, by contrast, would not only protect computer and machine learning algorithms but also the interfaces of an AI system that are indispensable for audits,” the study finds.
The subsidies worth billions pledged for 42 firms in 12 EU member states are aimed at helping Europe catch up with Chinese, Korean and Japanese electric-car trendsetters. The aim by 2025 was an EU battery industry capable of powering at least six million electric cars, says EU Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic, responsible for the bloc’s strategic futures planning. The EU executive‘s approval of €2.9 billion in subsidies is the second such pan-European scheme, following €3.2 billion approved in 2019 across seven countries. The latest “European Battery Innovation” scheme, set to run through 2028, goes to 42 companies in 12 EU member states, spanning raw materials to recycling, start-ups, universities and other research bodies. The scheme was likely to entice an extra €9 billion in private investment, according to the Brussels-based Commission. Currently, Europe accounts for only 3% of world battery cell production. Its aim by the end of this decade is 25% of the world battery market and less reliance on Asian imports.

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