French President Macron may be right about the need to regulate tech business

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New Delhi | Published: April 3, 2018 3:22:35 AM

French president Emmanuel Macron, no Luddite, talked about artificial intelligence (AI) opening Pandora’s Box for democracy—after announcing a $1.5-billion investment by France.

French president Emmanuel Macron, mmanuel Macron, france, indiaFrench president Emmanuel Macron (Reuters)

French president Emmanuel Macron, no Luddite, talked about artificial intelligence (AI) opening Pandora’s Box for democracy—after announcing a $1.5-billion investment by France on AI to catch up with China and the US—and then opened the Box himself. Macron told the magazine, Wired, that there will come a time when Facebook and Google (with Amazon and Apple somewhere in the picture, too) have to be broken up—because they have a “classical monopoly problem…they are huge players”. He believes that they are not only just “too big to fail”, but also “too big to be governed”. Echoing the EU’s general dissatisfaction with tech giants failing to pay adequate taxes, he wondered if tech companies will one day be forced to compensate for disrupting existing businesses. While Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has acknowledged that government must regulate tech companies—“(The) question isn’t ‘Should there be regulation or shouldn’t there be?’ It’s ‘How do you do it?’,” Zuckerberg said last month—some of what Macron proposes or hints at is just bad egg.

Disruption is a common thing in enterprise—some companies even disrupt their own business models from time to time—and it is the key to innovation seeing the light of day via marketable products or services. Asking innovators (read disruptors) to compensate for innovating (disrupting traditional business) will ensure innovation becomes much slower and surfaces in the market with much less frequency, even if it doesn’t choked off altogether. Fine-tuning taxation of tech giants—arduous in this digital age that blurs geographies and physical jurisdictions—must keep in mind that softening the blow of technological progress shouldn’t come at the cost of blocking that very progress. Breaking up “monopolies” sounds great in principle, but tech is often a winner takes all biz. Regulating tech, as Zuckerberg and many other tech leaders agree, is a need. But regulating shouldn’t come to mean punishing or dealing with a heavy hand.

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