Europe opens the right way to regulate the giants of the Net, the editorial by Jean Tirole

Europe opens the right way to regulate the giants of the Net, the editorial by Jean Tirole

We know it too little: the future of our digital economy and, therefore, of our society, is being played out in Brussels. The new economic power belongs to the giants of the Net: the seven largest market capitalizations, the most flourishing start-ups, are “multi-sided platforms”. Platforms are ecosystems, with a monopolized segment – the heart of the system: search engine for Google, marketplace for Amazon, App Store for Apple, social network for Facebook. They are paid not directly from the consumer, but by levying on the other side of the platform, the advertisers (auctions for targeted advertising) and the sellers (the latter pay average fees of around 30% on the App Store, 20% on Booking, 15% on Amazon…) and finally by accumulating valuable data. Economists are working hard to prevent Gafam abuses without blocking innovation. Tomorrow, they will also have immense societal power, through the importance of the data collected and through their status as press groups.

The European Union is taking the lead with three pieces of legislation: on the digital market (regulating dominant platforms), on digital services (controlling content) and on artificial intelligence (determining what it can be used for). Each time, the common good is at stake. The fundamental question, “if I did not yet know the place I would occupy in society, in which society would I want to live?”, has many implications, some of which are relevant for the digital world: our well-being cannot accommodate dominant platforms which would exploit their market power by taxing merchants and advertisers, which would not respect our privacy, which would tolerate hateful messages and fake news.

It also requires that artificial intelligence contributes to our happiness and not to the construction of a surveillance society based on social rating or to the manipulation to our detriment of our cognitive defects and our other behavioral weaknesses.

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