This article was published on June 23, 2023

EU plants flag in Silicon Valley ahead of big tech crackdown

The bloc's industry chief is laying down the law

EU plants flag in Silicon Valley ahead of big tech crackdown

The EU’s industry chief Thierry Breton travelled to Silicon Valley this week to prep tech giants for sweeping new rules governing social media, AI, and data.

Breton also made the trip to inaugurate the Commission’s first-ever office in Silicon Valley, as the bloc looks to plant its flag firmly on big tech’s home turf.  

EU officials entered Twitter’s headquarters yesterday to conduct a mock exercise with the company’s staff to analyse its handling of issues such as Russian propaganda, fake news, and criminal activity. 

This “stress test” was aimed at preparing Twitter for the bloc’s new Digital Services Act, which looks to crack down on online hate speech, illegal content, and disinformation. 

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Following the meeting, Breton said he had a “constructive dialogue” with Twitter owner Elon Musk and CEO Linda Yaccarino, and that the tech giant was taking compliance with the DSA “very seriously”. 

But he noted that the test showed the company still has work to do before the EU begins enforcing the law in late August. Under the DSA, combating disinformation will become a legal requirement.

The EU had previously warned Musk that Twitter could face a complete ban in Europe or fines running up to 6% of its global revenue if it does not comply with the laws. Musk has said the platform will comply. 

Google, Facebook, and Twitter are among some 44 companies participating in the EU’s code of practice, which the bloc introduced as a means of helping social media platforms prepare for the new laws.

After August 25, all these companies will be required to comply or face the same punishment detailed to Musk.

Also on the agenda: AI

Today, Breton is meeting Meta’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg as well as OpenAI’s Sam Altman, and Jensen Huang, who runs the leading microchips designer Nvidia.

Breton is meeting the big tech bosses to pitch a new initiative called the AI Pact, a voluntary, nonbinding commitment of tech firms to stick to certain principles when developing AI technologies.

The pact comes amid negotiations over the AI Act, which, once approved, will become the world’s first comprehensive law governing the development and use of AI.

The DSA, along with these new regulations on AI, has put Brussels at the bleeding edge of efforts to clamp down on Big Tech.  

While the bloc is taking a hardline approach and setting a precedent for the rest of the world, it may be hard-pressed to enforce the new regulations. 

As the Washington Post puts it: “Brussels has a checkered history of enforcement, and it’s unclear if they have the resources or speed to oversee some of the world’s most powerful companies.”

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