A list of prohibited practices as part of the EU’s upcoming efforts to regulate the digital ecosystem could have unintended consequences for the tech industry’s ability to develop innovative tools, writes Karan Bhatia.
Karan Bhatia is the vice president of government affairs and public policy at Google. This opinion piece has been written exclusively for EURACTIV.
In this extraordinary year, people and businesses are asking more, not less, from technology and technology companies. For many of us, and for many businesses, digital tools have been a lifeline during lockdown, helping us work, shop, find customers, connect with loved ones and get the latest public health information.
Helpful digital tools that serve millions of people don’t happen by accident – they need investment and rules that encourage that investment and innovation. Twenty years ago, the European Union created a regulatory environment to do just that.
Now it is overhauling those rules, with a comprehensive reform called the Digital Services Act (DSA). We fully support updating the rules, and think it’s more important than ever that this regulation delivers for European consumers and businesses.
But a significant part of this reform will impact how digital tools can be built in the future, and by whom.
That’s why, earlier this year, we shared our ideas with the European Commission, suggesting ways that existing legislation could be improved and warning of the risks if new rules are poorly designed.
Through the pandemic, people’s use of technology has jumped forward five years, with a 60% increase in internet usage. Searches for online shopping and how-to-buy online grew by 200% worldwide.
Demand for the free digital skills courses that Google offers has increased by 300%. And many businesses – like restaurants, fashion designers, retailers, and even hairdressers – have embraced digital to survive during painful lockdowns and restrictions.
Now, just as in every economic downturn of the last 20 years, digital tools will be a vital catalyst for the economic recovery that must come after COVID-19. In rewriting the rules that govern the internet in Europe, the EU has an opportunity to rebuild the foundations so that everybody can thrive online and consumers can benefit from wide choice and lower prices.
Yet reports suggest that some of the proposals being considered would do the opposite. They would prevent global technology companies like Google from building innovative digital tools like the ones that people have used through lockdown — and that will help European businesses rebuild their operations.
That would be a missed opportunity for Europe as it looks to the post-COVID future.
The DSA will not only affect a handful of global companies, but will also have broader impacts – including on the livelihoods of small business owners across Europe, who use digital services like ours to communicate with their customers, sell their products and services and fuel their growth.
To take just one example, if you use Google Search to look for “Thai food nearby”, Google Maps shows you where the nearest restaurant is located and provides its contact details. And other links let you book a table directly (if local health restrictions allow) or see if you can pick up your meal to take away.
The DSA could prevent Google from developing such user-centric features. That would clearly have an impact not just on how people use our services, but also on the thousands of restaurants that welcomed millions of diners in Europe using this free feature this year.
At Google, we put innovation and continuous improvement at the heart of everything we do. While we support the ambition of the DSA to create clear rules for the next 20 years that support economic growth, we worry that the new rules may instead slow economic recovery.
We will advocate strongly for policies that will help ensure innovation and digital tools are at the heart of Europe’s recovery and future success.
Over the past few months, we’ve seen the power of technology as a tool to bring people together, keep them safe and help them get through difficult times.
Now, more than ever, we need to focus not on how to limit innovation by a few companies, but on how the full range of digital tools available can contribute to Europe’s recovery and future economic success. The key to that success? Giving people more, not less.