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VivaTech 2021: Cédric O says tech 'oligopoly' must be regulated to defend the public interest

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French Digital Economy Secretary Cédric O said tech companies were forming an "oligopoly" and had to be regulated.
French Digital Economy Secretary Cédric O said tech companies were forming an "oligopoly" and had to be regulated.   -   Copyright  LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP
By Pascale Davies  & Tom Bateman

France's Secretary of State for the Digital Economy Cédric O has told Euronews Next that more regulation is needed to control a tech industry that is "evolving as an oligopoly".

Speaking at the VivaTech 2021 conference in Paris on Friday, O said national governments were beginning to realise that big tech companies were not putting the public interest first.

"As innovative as the private sector is, it is not from the start embedding all the public good notion, the general interest," he told Euronews Next.

"So, we need more regulation and we need more regulation both on competition and on the economic side, but also on the content regulation side.

"I do believe that from a regulatory point of view, from the public power point of view, regulation of the tech market is heavily needed both from an economic but also from a democratic point of view".

O also welcomed the move by US President Joe Biden to appoint big tech critic Lina Khan as chair of the United States Federal Trade Commission earlier this week.

"This is also a question in the US and I would be quite interested in having Ms. Khan's point of view, the new head of the FTC, on the Digital Market Act. I don't think she's completely aligned with the approach of Tim Cook," he said.

"We see that there are really parallel discussions in the US and in Europe, especially with the new American administration".

Big tech under pressure

O's comments come after Apple CEO Tim Cook criticised the European Union's proposed Digital Services Act, which would break the company's monopoly hold on apps for its iOS platform.

"As we look at that, that would destroy the security of the ‌iPhone‌," Cook told the VivaTech 2021 conference on Wednesday.

"There are good parts of the regulation...there are parts of the DSA that are right on. I think it's just one of those areas where we have the responsibility to say when it's not in the best interest of our user," he said.

BROOKS KRAFT/AFP
Tim Cook pushed back on the suggestion that Apple should allow iPhone users to install apps without downloading them from its own App Store.BROOKS KRAFT/AFP

Last week, O was one of a group of European ministers from France, Germany and the Netherlands to call for tech industry buyouts to face tougher scrutiny from regulators.

In a statement, O, along with German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, his French counterpart Bruno Le Maire and Dutch Economic Affairs Minister Mona Keijzer, levelled criticism at so-called "killer acquisitions," where tech companies buy nascent rivals with the goal of shutting them down.

Europe playing catch-up

O also told Euronews Next that the French government was working to help Europe's tech sector catch up to global leaders in the USA and China.

"There is a huge acceleration in the European tech ecosystem, especially in France, but in Europe as a whole, and we will continue as a decision-maker, as public decision-maker, to try to shape the best environment here, because we think that this is vital for our economy, but also for our democracy," he said.

"Europe can carve its own way between China and the US".