FlyTitle: Tech regulation

The European Union wants to set the rules in the tech world

欧盟希望制定科技业的规则

MARK ZUCKERBERG might not have liked everything he heard, but Facebook’s boss got the timing right for a recent visit to Brussels. He was among the first outsiders to hear about the European Union’s ambitious plans to keep the technology industry in check, outlined in a series of documents made public a few days later, on February 19th. His visit is an admission that political paralysis in Washington, DC, has handed the EU the opportunity to become the world’s most important source of tech regulation.

虽然有些言论可能会让扎克伯格听得如芒在背,但这位Facebook老板近期访问布鲁塞尔的时机很恰当。他是第一批听取欧盟旨在约束科技业的宏伟计划的外部人士之一。在他到访几天后的2月19日,欧盟以一系列文件的形式公布了计划的大致内容。他的访问向大家确认了一点:处于政治瘫痪中的美国政府给了欧盟机会,令它可能成为世界上最重要的科技监管源头。

Europe is both gnome and giant in the tech world. The continent has lots of cutting-edge technology but hardly any significant digital platforms. It accounts for less than 4% of the market capitalisation of the world’s 70 largest platforms (America boasts 73% and China 18%). At the same time, the EU is a huge market, with a population of more than 500m, which no tech titan can ignore. It contributes about a quarter of the revenues of Facebook and Google.

欧洲既是科技世界的侏儒,也是巨人。欧洲有许多尖端技术,但几乎没有什么重要的数字平台。在全球70个最大的数字平台的总市值中,欧洲仅占不到4%(美国占73%,中国占18%)。与此同时,欧盟是一个巨大的市场,人口超过五亿,没有哪个科技巨头能忽视它。它为Facebook和谷歌贡献了四分之一的收入。

This combination has given rise to what Anu Bradford of Columbia Law School calls, in a new book of the same name, the “Brussels effect”. Digital services are, in her words, often “indivisible”. It would be too expensive for big tech firms to offer substantially different services outside the EU. As a result, most have adopted the General Data Protection Regulation, Europe’s strict privacy law, as a global standard. Governments, too, have taken more than a page from the EU’s data-protection book. About 120 countries have now passed privacy laws, most of which resemble the GDPR and its predecessors.

这样的组合催生出了哥伦比亚大学法学院的阿努·布拉德福德(Anu Bradford)所说的“布鲁塞尔效应”,他在同名新书中探讨了这一现象。用她的话来说,数字服务往往是“不可切分的”。对于大型科技公司来说,在欧盟之外提供迥乎不同的服务,代价将过于高昂。因此,它们大都已经采用了欧洲严格的隐私法规《通用数据保护条例》(General Data Protection Regulation)作为全球标准。各国政府也从欧盟的数据保护条例中借鉴了不少。目前已经有约120个国家通过了隐私法规,其中大多数都与《通用数据保护条例》及其前身相似。

The European Commission wants to repeat the trick in other areas. The main document presented last month, a white paper on artificial intelligence, is a grab bag of measures to foster the use of AI in Europe and to limit its perceived dangers. The commission also released a “strategy” to promote the use of data, the most important input for AI applications. The idea is to create a “single European data space” in which digital information flows freely and securely. To make that happen, the commission wants, among other things, to eliminate legal barriers that keep firms from sharing data, as well as investment in cloud services that facilitate sharing.

欧盟委员会还想把同一招用到其他领域。上月发布的主要文件是一份关于人工智能的白皮书,其中包含多种措施,目的在于促进人工智能在欧洲的应用,并限制这种技术可能存在的危险。欧盟委员会还发布了一项促进数据使用的“战略”,数据是人工智能应用最重要的输入。它的理念是创建一个“单一的欧洲数据空间”,让数字信息在其中自由安全地流动。为了实现这一理念,欧盟委员会除了其他的措施之外,还希望消除阻碍企业共享数据的法律障碍,以及投资云服务来促进数据共享。

Both papers are part of the EU’s overall “digital strategy”, which was also presented. Later this year the commission will put forward a draft of a “Digital Services Act”. Dominant tech firms should expect stricter rules not only about how they police the content that users generate, but the extent to which they can discriminate against rivals that use their services. All this is rounded up by a review of competition policy. Details are scarce, but proposed legislation in Germany indicates the direction of travel: data will become far more important for determining whether a company is dominant and whether it has abused its market power.

这两份文件都是欧盟提出的整体“数字战略”的一部分。今年晚些时候,欧盟委员将提出一份“数字服务法案”草案。占据主导地位的科技公司应预期将面临更严格的规定,不仅针对它们如何看管用户生成的内容,还会限制它们区别对待使用自家服务的竞争对手的程度。所有这些都汇总在一份关于竞争政策的报告中。具体细节尚不清楚,但德国提出的立法建议预示了发展的趋势:在确定一家公司是否占据主导地位和滥用了市场权力时,数据这个衡量因素将变得重要得多。

There are signs that the Brussels effect will work its magic again. Facebook is not the only tech giant to accept Europe as the world’s main source of tech regulation for some time to come. Sundar Pichai, the boss of Alphabet, Google’s parent, recently paid a visit to the Belgian capital. He called for “sensible regulation” of AI. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, is a regular guest. America’s tech titans also increasingly use the EU to influence the debate at home. It saves some lobbying there, if they can help shape widely adopted regulations that emanate from Europe.

有迹象表明,布鲁塞尔效应将再次发挥魔力。在未来一段时间内,Facebook不会是唯一一家将欧洲视为全球科技监管主要来源的科技巨头。谷歌的母公司Alphabet的老板桑达尔·皮查伊(Sundar Pichai)最近也访问了这个比利时的首都。他呼吁对人工智能进行“明智的监管”。微软总裁布拉德·史密斯(Brad Smith)是那儿的常客。美国科技巨头也越来越多地利用欧盟来影响国内的争论。如果他们能帮助制定被广泛采用的欧洲法规,会省去一些在美国游说的功夫。

But the Brussels effect may be less effective than in the past. The ground on which the debate over privacy legislation was conducted had been long established before the GDPR, but regulation in AI is nascent. Experts still quarrel over such basic questions as what AI actually is. And the EU, where politicians tend to favour stricter regulation, may overdo it. This could push the tech giants to differentiate their regional offerings after all (and stymie Europe’s startups). Worse, the data strategy could easily turn protectionist.

但布鲁塞尔效应可能不会像过去那样有效。关于隐私立法的争论早在《通用数据保护条例》之前就有了基础,而人工智能的监管还处于萌芽阶段。专家们仍然在一些基本问题上争论不休,比如人工智能到底是什么。欧盟也可能会做得过火,那里的政客们倾向于支持更严格的监管。这可能最终会促使科技巨头在各个地区推出不同的产品(还会阻碍欧洲的创业公司)。更糟糕的是,欧盟的数据战略可能很容易转向保护主义。

If the EU’s digital plans became restrictive policy driven by protectionism, that would limit Europe’s ability to set global rules which could help to give its firms a much-needed leg up. It would also make it much harder for the EU to establish what the digital world will badly need, should regulation of tech remain stalled in America even after the presidential election. ■

如果欧盟的数字计划变成由保护主义驱动的限制性政策,它将限制欧洲制定全球规则的能力,而这种规则本可以让欧洲企业获得急需的助力。它也会大大增加欧盟建立数字世界急需的规则的难度(如果美国在大选过后科技监管仍然停滞不前,这样的规则将是急需的)。