Big tech companies shouldn’t own citizens’ private data. Madam President of the Commission, President von der Leyen, I am writing this open letter because it covers a subject of great interest to European citizens. I am not talking about a global pandemic, but a challenge the consequences of which could prove to be even greater and more serious. The US and Chinese technology platforms challenge popular sovereignty and undermine democracy. It’s about freedom, the rule of law and human rights. This is the idea of a modern Europe. In 2014 I wrote an open letter to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. In it I described the danger that a platform like Google poses to the rights of individual citizens, to pluralistic competition and to freedom of expression if it is not controlled by regulations. The letter was both a warning and a confession: “We’re afraid of Google:” At the time, many said I was exaggerating. Unfortunately the opposite is true – I was exaggerating. In retrospect, I found that the risks I had warned about manifested themselves much more quickly and were far more serious than I could ever have imagined. And it’s not just Google anymore. Today we are faced with a situation where giant supranational corporations may be above governments or democratic order. Another question we have to ask ourselves is whether machines are there to serve people or whether people will operate machines and their far too powerful operators. This trend has been visible for a long time. But this pandemic and the aftermath of its struggle have accelerated and intensified the trend. And this is exactly where our chance lies.
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