Digital Bridge: TTC planning — Twitter’s costly data — US-EU antitrust bosses

Digital Bridge: TTC planning — Twitter’s costly data — US-EU antitrust bosses
Опубликовано: Thursday, 30 March 2023 11:36

POLITICO’s weekly transatlantic tech newsletter for global technology elites and political influencers.




By MARK SCOTT


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CIAO A TUTTI! This is Digital Bridge and I’m Mark Scott, POLITICO’s chief technology correspondent. I’m taking a break this week — basking (hopefully) in the Italian sun. But while I’m away, here’s an example of how advances in artificial intelligence won’t just be felt in the virtual world. It’s going to change our analog lives, too.


Here’s what cooking in digital politics this week:


— It’s that time again: The next EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council is almost upon us. Here’s what you need to know.


Elon Musk has picked a fight with academics over how they track falsehoods on his social network.


American and European competition officials gather in Washington to talk digital and (similar) tech antitrust cases.


TTC PLANNING: WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T MENTION THE SUBSIDY WAR


IT’S BECOMING A RITE OF PASSAGE: Leaks are starting to trickle out about the upcoming EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council (TTC) meeting expected to be held in Luleå, Sweden on May 30-31. Where’s Luleå, you ask? It’s a northern Swedish town (population: 50,000) known for its steelworks and (fun!) Facebook data center. Some American officials are already grumbling about why the summit has to be in the middle of nowhere — especially as it would mean traveling on Memorial Day. There’s an outside possibility the summit will be moved to Stockholm.


So what’s expected to be announced? That’s still definitely still up in the air, with European Union and United States policymakers meeting this month (see below) to hammer out the finer points. But what’s almost certainly going to be announced is a transatlantic deal on so-called critical raw materials so that minerals extracted/processed in Europe can be included within subsidies associated with the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). U.S. President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen trailed that earlier in March.


Also, expect more money to be set aside for telecommunications and digital infrastructure in the Global South (to keep Chinese equipment makers at bay) and potentially some form of nebulous EU-U.S. cooperation on combating Russian interference in both Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. That last one has become more difficult after Republicans took over the U.S. House of Representatives and started issuing information requests to anyone linked to the fight against disinformation. That has made anything that looks like content moderation (or censorship, if you’re a Republican) a taboo subject in Washington.


Again, all of this is very much at an early stage, according to four EU and U.S. officials who spoke to Digital Bridge about the planning. Yet just like every previous TTC gathering, broader political questions are already getting in the way — and making it very difficult to come up with clear “deliverables” for the likes of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Europe’s trade commissioner, Valdis Dombrovskis, to announce to great fanfare.


What no one really wants to talk about is the ongoing subsidy race between Europe and the U.S. on everything from semiconductors to electric vehicles. You’ve got Washington’s $52 billion Chips Act going up against the EU’s $47 billion equivalent — both of which want to lure the likes of Intel and TSMC to set up shop locally via lucrative government incentives. Then you’ve got $369 billion from the U.S.’s IRA to jumpstart green investment versus Europe’s separate Green Deal Industrial Plan that’s worth at least $272 billion, if not more.


How this should work — according to EU and U.S. officials trying to get these programs to mesh with each other — is that Washington and Brussels will be very public about how the money will be spent, including via mutually-shared overviews of which companies get what levels of financial support. That includes a newly-created Clean Energy Incentives Dialogue as part of the transatlantic discussions so that — as much as possible — the U.S. and Europe aren’t pulling in different directions.


And yet, friction is already starting to show. Semiconductor giants are playing both sides off each other in the hunt for the largest amounts of subsidies. (Mostly European) automakers complain about the levels of assistance their U.S. rivals are getting — ironic given how European countries have helped their domestic carmakers over the years. Repeatedly, officials tell me that no one wants a “subsidy war.” But ahead of the upcoming summit in May, does anyone still believe that won’t happen?


HOW MUCH SHOULD TRANSPARENCY COST?


ZEVE SANDERSON RECENTLY GOT AN UNWELCOME SURPRISE. As executive director of New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics, he and his team have more than 40 projects on the go analyzing social media’s effect on democracy. Not surprisingly, a lot of that data comes from Twitter. Yet the company’s executives broke some bad news: The researchers’ free access to those tweets (via a dedicated track for academics) would soon be replaced with a pay-to-play alternative. The cost? Packages start at $42,000 a month and skyrocket to $210,000 per month for the largest amount of access.


“There’s the opposite of economies of scale going on here,” he told me. “The more tweets you want, the more you pay per tweet, which is not the way anybody really tends to price anything.” FWIW, the lowest level of access gets you 50 million tweets a month. The costliest access provides 200 million tweets over the same time period. For comparison, the current (free) academic data-access program, which Twitter is phasing out, allows researchers 10 million tweets a month. Making matters worse, Twitter is expected to shut down its so-called decahose, or most intense, data-access system by the end of May.


For Musk, Twitter’s troller-in-chief, this is all about saving money. Running servers for pesky academics — many of whom highlight wrongdoing on the platform — is extremely expensive, especially when you’re looking to cut costs as much as you can. But the pending cutbacks in how researchers can monitor the Blue Bird as part of their work into social media’s role in democracy goes directly against how policymakers want to increase transparency ahead of next year’s marathon election cycle, on both sides of the Atlantic.


A disclaimer: I’m personally a fan of data access and am working on a project on it, separately, at Brown University. But Europe’s new content rules are pretty clear: Social media giants, including Twitter, must grant outside researchers free and unfettered access to data for their research, or face potentially hefty fines. “If the access to researchers is getting worse, most likely that would go against the spirit of that commitment,” Věra Jourová, the European commissioner for values and transparency, told me in reference to Musk’s obligations under the bloc’s Digital Services Act and the separate code of practice on disinformation.


Last week, Twitter executives held a meeting with EU officials and civil society groups to calm nerves over fears that expensive data access would become the norm. Yet three people involved in those discussions said the company’s representatives had no clear answer as to whether researchers would soon have to pay (Europe’s rules say it should be free), or how that system would be rolled out. “We left with more questions than answers,” said one of those individuals, who was granted anonymity to discuss the internal meeting.


In North America, there’s even less wriggle room. Until now, Twitter had been the most open of the social networks, working actively with researchers to analyze what was going on within its walls. After Musk fired almost all of those internal teams last year, academics told me there was no one to whom they could turn — and many fretted they’d have to shut down their Twitter-based work if/when the new paid-for access came into force. “That’s not something that we would be able to afford,” Anatoliy Gruzd, director of research at Toronto Metropolitan University’s Social Media Lab told me. He added that $42,000 was roughly what his team could pay a post-doctoral researcher for a year’s work.


If that wasn’t enough, two other factors are also at play. Multiple academics said other platforms would likely follow Twitter’s lead in cutting back researcher access, making it difficult to know what was happening online. U.S.-based funders, too, are getting more skittish about supporting this work given the Republicans’ renewed focus on public hearings associated with any type of politically-focused misinformation work. That, according to three researchers who did not want to speak publicly given their current positions at leading U.S. universities, had many thinking about jumping ship to institutions in Europe so they could maintain their access to social media data via the bloc’s legally-binding rules.


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BY THE NUMBERS



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TRANSATLANTIC ANTITRUST REGULATORS, UNITE!


AMERICAN AND EUROPEAN COMPETITION ENFORCERS gathered in Washington this week for their semi-regular meetup known as the Transatlantic Competition Policy Dialogue. It’s basically the regulatory side hustle to the policy-focused EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council. On the menu was greater information-sharing on cases and how to approach digital markets. Expect discussions around Microsoft-Activision, as well as how the implementation of Europe’s Digital Markets Act and the U.S. cases into Amazon, Facebook and Google are going.


The gathering, which included Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s competition chief, in Washington this week comes alongside the separate Summit for Democracy where the Danish politician spoke alongside Arati Prabhakar, director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology. The topic? “Shaping Emerging Technologies to Ensure Respect for Human Rights and Democratic Principles.” Expect a lot of saber-rattling against authoritarian regimes, but nothing much on substance. Another panel worth tuning into: one on countering “digital authoritarianism” and the misuse of technology.


WONK OF THE WEEK


LET’S SPREAD OUR WINGS AND HEAD EAST this week to focus on Michal Klíma, who, until last month, was the Czech Republic’s first-ever commissioner for media and disinformation. His primary focus was to create a plan for how the former communist country could combat foreign interference across Prague’s multiple ministries.


It didn’t go to plan. After coming up with an “Action Plan against Disinformation,” which included money for local media, greater clarity on how to respond to foreign disinformation campaigns and other suggestions from which the Czech government could choose, Klíma was abruptly fired in February — either because he angered Russian-favoring parts of the country’s ruling coalition or because he didn’t have enough support for his proposals, depending on with whom you speak.


“Rejecting the action plan and therefore not implementing the measures it proposed is a fundamental mistake,” he said recently. “Instead of strengthening society’s defense against Russian influence, the state resigns from this defense.


THEY SAID WHAT, NOW?


There’s no question in my mind that, in the chip sector, globalization is dead. Free trade is not quite that dead, but it’s in danger,” Morris Chang, founder of the Taiwanese semiconductor giant TSMC, told an audience in Taipei. “Globalization is almost dead and free trade is almost dead. A lot of people still wish they would come back, but I don’t think they will be back.”


WHAT I’M READING


— Which social media platforms offer the greatest level of data access (see above) to their platforms? Emma Lurie compares the big players for Tech Policy Press.


— The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is asking people to spill the beans on the potential competition and security risks related to cloud computing providers. Read more here.


— The United Kingdom’s privacy regulator updated its data protection guidance for the use of artificial intelligence, especially around how companies can use this technology in safe ways.


— There’s a growing global market for spyware vendors that goes well beyond the likes of Israel’s NSO Group, based on analysis from Steven Feldstein and Brian Kot for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Bonus: The White House’s executive order on the prohibition of such commercial spyware.


— OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, analyzed the potential risks related to its technology and highlighted where preventative governance would be needed to mitigate problems. Read its scorecard here. Bonus: Open letter from tech grandees calling for a pause of the use of this technology.


— The recent Dutch export bans on semiconductor equipment to China leave the country at risk of retaliation from Beijing and needs to be expanded to an EU-wide approach, argues Mathieu Duchâtel for Institut Montaigne.