Is Google Watching You?

Millions of us use Google to search the internet but such habits come at a high price. Although free at the point of use search companies examine and sell every piece of our personal data.

Searching the internet

Given that the situation is unlikely to change in the near future, governments try to manage technology’s influence of markets and regulators try to protect people’s privacy. Fears are also expressed at the range of material such companies share and the low level of tax paid to the exchequer. Regulators as a result work to reduce their power although users must accept their share of responsibility too, as individuals surrender all kinds of personal data. There are of course ways to search the internet without your movements being tracked but they are little known and only used by a fraction of the population.

Concerns about privacy are also heightened by the amount of influence tech companies exert on the daily behaviour of customers. The fact that huge quantities of data are held by a small number of players threatens meaningful competition in the market. One way to address the issue is to restrict the amount of data companies are allowed to collect and limit the number of services they provide. The way tech companies track users behaviour after leaving sites and when browsing on the internet should also be restricted. Ultimately, the ownership of private data should reside with the person rather than the company, although such an approach is resisted because of its effect on profits.

Europe rules

The EU, as one of the world leaders in the introduction of regulations to restrict the power of the tech giants, is not a leader in the development of tech companies. But its ability to restrict the power of large companies is proving a useful challenge to those who dominate markets. Given that the vast majority of tech giants reside in the US it may be easier for the EU to be a world leader in the development of regulations to protect customers.

The US and the EU have different approaches to the role government plays in the economy. The US prefers minimal intervention, as it believes the generation of profit causes markets to self-regulate. From this perspective, large firms are only seen as a problem when they disrupt the rights of customers. The EU by contrast prefers to see greater numbers of businesses enter and operate in markets on an on-going basis. It is also concerned about the merits of large tech companies buying start-up businesses before they get a chance to expand and grow.

Given that the US is a leader in the development of tech giants and the EU is a leader in the regulation of tech giants there is a positive synergy between the two. In this regard, and to ensure the long-term sustainability of markets and the protection of customers, it is a match of opposites that benefits everyone. The history of each region has created different worldviews, as the experience of the EU highlights the dangers of the state or any entity controlling the private details of citizens.

So, the EU and US differ over the influence of the tech giants but as long as they continue to pursue their respective agendas the world will be a better place.