Sunday, May 9, 2021

Davos Highlights: Ursula Von der Leyen Urges US to Join Big Tech Crackdown

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The World Economic Forum or Davos, the annual gathering of the world’s political and business leaders, takes place virtually this year due to the pandemic. The FT brings you the highlights of the second day.

The President of the European Commission urged the new US administration to join the EU’s attempts to “contain the immense power” of Big Tech.

Ursula von der Leyen said that Brussels wanted social media giants to disclose how their business models and algorithms work “because we cannot accept that decisions that have a huge impact on our democracy are made by programs alone. IT ”.

Ms von der Leyen said Twitter’s decision to delete Donald Trump’s account earlier this month was a “serious interference with free speech.” She said such decisions “should not be based solely on company rules”, but that regulators should create “a framework of laws for decisions of such scope.”

Brussels last year released drafts of the EU’s Digital Markets Law and Digital Services Law, designed to reduce the market power of big tech and tackle illegal online content.

Ms von der Leyen urged the new White House administration to join in with the EU’s efforts, after strained relations with Mr Trump over the regulation of predominantly US tech companies.

“I want to invite our friends in the United States to join our initiatives. Together we could create a rulebook on the digital economy, ”she said.

Elsewhere, the distribution of vaccines has been the focus of attention. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has urged richer countries to stop stockpiling vaccines or risk prolonging the pandemic as Africa risks being left behind in the global vaccine race.

“We are deeply concerned about the problem of ‘vaccine nationalism’, which, if not addressed, will endanger the recovery of all countries,” he said, adding that some countries had bought a lot. more than necessary.

African countries have yet to begin large-scale vaccinations and even South Africa, the region’s most industrialized economy, is only awaiting its first shipment this month.

These concerns prompted Saudi Arabia to consider launching an initiative to distribute vaccines to poor countries in the Middle East and Africa, independently of the Covax initiative supported by the World Health Organization.

The new initiative, revealed by the Saudi finance minister during a panel with FT editor-in-chief Roula Khalaf, comes amid frustration over the slowness of the Covax program which is intended to distribute 2 billion vaccines against the coronavirus, especially to the poorest countries, by the end of the year.

Other Davos participants grappled with the prospect of fleeing markets. Thomas Buberl, managing director of French insurer Axa, expressed concern about the impact of the prolonged period of low interest rates on asset bubbles and insisted on the need to protect confidence in financial markets if the pandemic crisis continues.

“One problem for me is clearly how to get out of this period of low interest rates so that, on the one hand, I find a good balance and not stifle the recovery,” Buberl said.

“It’s clear that some markets have very, very high valuations today, especially when you look at stocks. The question is, when it gets back to normal, what does it mean for these ratings? “

Confidence in the financial system was in danger of being undermined if the pandemic continued longer than expected, whether because of the slow roll-out of vaccination or the spread of mutant strains of the virus, he said. .

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