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In 2020, global techlash will move from words to action

Digital Politics is a column about the global intersection of technology and the world of politics.

LONDON — Its safe to say that 2019 was not a good year for tech.

Facebook, again, found itself at the center of a global regulatory maelstrom. Other tech giants, from Amazon to Apple, faced similar questions about their activities worldwide. The wider publics trust in digital services — and their ability to control them — was tested almost to the breaking point.

But as we enter a new year, its worth asking: Where do we go from here?

Despite a litany of investigations, fines and new laws aimed at reining in techs worst excesses, the industry — and particularly the largest (American and Chinese) players — has gone from strength to strength, with almost all of the companies stock prices hitting record highs in 2019.

If 2019 was defined by the shine coming off much of the tech world, 2020 will be determined by how we all respond to this changing of the guard.

Rampant levels of online misinformation, often fueled by cheap, off-the-shelf artificial intelligence software, massive amounts of opaque funding and legions of low-paid digital content creators, flooded elections from India to the European Union — a distinctly bad omen ahead of the 2020 U.S. presidential race.

A new wave of protectionism among Western policymakers also made responding to these global challenges increasingly difficult, with ruptures between Washington and European capitals never too far from the surface over digital tax, online content and antitrust concerns. To add to the mix: American politicians trying to outdo one another with ever more populist rhetoric about how to tackle Big Tech (without actually passing any new laws).

If 2019 was defined by the shine coming off much of the tech world, 2020 will be determined by how we all respond to this changing of the guard.

Here are four predictions of how things will likely shake out in the year ahead:

Transatlantic tensions give China an opening

Europe and the U.S. have long disagreed on how to police the digital world.

But even as Washington (and U.S. states) start to come around to the idea that the tech status quo may not be all that its cracked up to be, deep divisions continue to hamstring the Wests approach to many pressing digital questions. That includes everything from whether social media companies should be held responsible for what is posted on their global networks to broader questions such as how countries should use national funds to make sure local people and businesses are prepared for what awaits them.

Into this Western void steps China. Already the worlds second-largest economy — and arguably the only country whose local tech players can compete with those of Silicon Valley — Beijing will press its claim to everyone who will listen that its version of the internet (one, it goes without saying, that lacks almost all personal freedoms) is the true vision of the future.

Without a unified Western response to this sales pitch, countries — particularly those with existing authoritarian leanings — will likely turn to China, and not Europe and the U.S., for guidance on how to govern the digital world. To help with Beijings full-court press, local firms like Huawei and ZTE will be on hand to build fast mobile phone networks, known as 5G, to boost internet access — even in Europe, where local policymakers are dithering over how to handle these Chinese equipment-makers.

Europe overstretches on global role

The European Union prides itself on being the worlds digital policeman. And in 2020, Brussels has its eyes on more regulatory power.

Full of gusto after the regions revamped privacy rules became the de facto global standard, EU officials want to strike lucky again by creating similar worldwide laws for everything from artificial intelligence to online content. But while Europe was able to push its claim over data protection (mostly because it had played global rule-setter on this issue since the mid-1990s), the regions policymakers will likely fall short with their latest ambitions.

The EU needs to make strides on Artificial Intelligence | Isabel Infantes/AFP via Getty Images

In some areas, most notably artificial intelligence, the EU remains a bit player compared with the U.S. and China (in terms of money invested in the technology), so drawing up global rules will prove difficult, if not impossible, because neither Washington nor Beijing will likely comply. In others, like renewed efforts to create a region-wide, if not global, set of digital tax rules targeting the likes of Facebook, Amazon and Google, entrenched infighting between European countries will make it tough for Brussels to bring together such disparate interests to effectively stamp its claim on the next round of global digital policymaking.

More cases against Big Tech, but still no change

In 2019, there were more investigations opened against Silicon Valleys biggest names than you could shake a stick at. In the new year, expect more of the same.

U.S. authorities are finally getting in on the action, with U.S. states attorney generals, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission all questioning if the likes of Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon have garnered too much power. Early in 2020, Irelands privacy regulator <a href="https://www.politico.eu/pro/facebook-privacy-fines-ftc-ireland-helen-dixon-dale-sunderland-data-protection/?utm_source=<a href=https://www.politico.eu/article/tech-policy-competition-privacy-facebook-europe-techlash/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication>Read More – Source</a></p>_

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