Facebook’s Sandberg warns Europe not to impede innovation
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Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook is set to urge Europe to create a “pro-innovation” environment unhampered by “poorly designed regulation,” in the latest warning from Silicon Valley that the continent is cutting itself off from the digital revolution.
Speaking to the Financial Times before the annual gathering of the world’s political and business elite at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ms Sandberg urged policymakers to avoid impeding “progress”, such as by adopting laws that block Silicon Valley’s innovations.
“Well-designed regulation can unlock new opportunities and help small businesses and industries to scale,” she said. “Poorly designed regulation can do the opposite.”
The chief operating officer of the social networking company and one of the world’s most influential female executives said that fear of new technologies disrupting established industries and destroying livelihoods was misguided.
Instead, Ms Sandberg argued that such “innovation can power economic growth if we create the right climate for it to flourish”.
Ms Sandberg’s intervention comes as the global march of Silicon Valley companies has begun to face serious resistance in Europe over the past two years.
Sparked by concern at widespread US internet surveillance, tax avoidance and commercial dominance, European authorities made a concerted effort to rein in the power and reach of leading US tech companies.
Some US leaders, including President Barack Obama, have described the efforts as “tech protectionism” designed to curb the threat that digital upstarts pose to the continent’s established companies.
Ms Sandberg will also call for the urgent completion of a new transatlantic data-sharing agreement called Safe Harbour. In December, the European Court of Justice invalidated the previous US-EU pact that had lasted for 15 years. The pact allowed American companies to ship the personal information on European citizens wholesale back to the US.
The ECJ made its decision after Max Schrems, a 28-year-old Austrian law student, made a complaint against Facebook in Ireland, where the social networking company has its European base. The court accepted his argument that letting so much data flow to the US had exposed Europeans to American spying.
US and EU politicians are negotiating a new pact but talks remain deadlocked as the Europeans seek further assurances over how data will be used. The decision has left US technology companies scrambling to overhaul their transatlantic operations and uncertainty over whether they can handle personal data within the law.
One of the central themes of this year’s WEF is the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, referring to how technological breakthroughs such as artificial intelligence and advanced robotics are expected to transform global industry.
It is argued such advances will have the transformative effect that steam power, electricity and mass computing had on global industry in previous centuries.
“Every industrial revolution has been challenging for the world, and every one has led to growth and progress,” said Ms Sandberg. “Europe is positioned to lead, with highly developed knowledge economies and a world-class research community. It also has the ability to move as a large, single market. When Europe makes innovation a priority, it can capitalise.”
Privately, tech executives said they are bracing themselves for a hostile reception from those global business leaders who believe they are undermining established industries.
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