Eva Kaili is the most influential EMP in EU’s Digital Policy, according to the Influence Index 2020 and in January 2021 elected Vice President of the European Parliament, supported by the Socialists and Democrats Group. Working closely with Margrethe Vestager, she is one of the top politicians in Europe apt to talk about how EU is working to protect our digital rights as citizens and what the big tech companies should expect (including fines).
Talking to Moonshot.News’ Dimitra Letsa, Eva Kaili stresses that in Europe when it comes to citizens’ privacy protection and freedom of speech it is democratically elected legislators deciding – not the big IT. Legislation is needed, she says. “We cannot expect self-control and self-regulation – especially not from the superpowers and the big platforms.”
Kaili is the founder of the Future Forum in Brussels, the Chair of the EP’s Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) and Vice-Chair of the Artificial Intelligence and Digital Intergroup. Kaili is a member of the ITRE committee, and in the past, she has been a rapporteur on dossiers related to distributed ledger technologies and blockchains.
Q: Europe is in the driver’s seat regarding regulation and digital rights, obviously impacting the developments in the US and other markets. What’s your general evaluation of what is achieved so far and what remains to be done more or differently in that area?
”I actually just came out of a meeting with our vice president of the commission, Margrethe Vestager, where we were discussing exactly this topic: How bold EU should be? We have actually raised expectations and GDPR was the first step to regulate the internet based on European values and to lead globally in terms of protecting privacy.”
However, Kaili thinks that more has to be done:
“It needs to be extended and expanded and binding by law. We cannot expect self-control and self-regulation – especially from the superpowers and the big platforms.”
Taking as an example the discussions about freedom of expression and censorship created when Facebook and Twitter shut down former US President Donald Trump´s accounts after the chaos at the Capitolium:
”I don’t want to judge the position that anyone has, the ideology. Maybe it was a relief, maybe the tension had been too high, but still it revealed that these platforms feel they have the superpower to decide how they protect democracy without being accountable, without proportionality, without following any legal procedure and without even being elected.”
”So now in Europe, we are regulating the internet and updating an existing regulation. We translate the offline world into digital rights. This is not always easy because of the virality and the lack of clarity around the user data online.”
Mentioning the proposed EU regulation on data governance and privacy presented in the autumn last year, Kaili is anyway optimistic despite difficulties:
”But the good thing is that now we already have on our table the services act for digital and the data governance. So we expect to manage to put some rules there and protect sensitive and personal data. It is important to take into consideration our metadata. It may perhaps not be considered to be sensitive. Still this data creates not just value for companies, but in the end these metadata can also be used to manipulate perceptions and attack our democratic systems.”
Q: What is your take on how the gatekeepers and tech platforms have been dealing with the European Union and, if you could advise them, would you say they have to take a different approach in the future?
”If you consider that Europe is actually one of the three globally leading markets for them, I don’t think they can afford to ignore what EU is preparing. So, the technology might be unstoppable but so is the legal certainty that we need to put new rules on the internet.”
”We have to find this balance where they (the tech platforms) will understand that to make profit is their business model, but to protect citizens and rights is our obligation. They will have to follow the law and what elected politicians legislate!”
Kaili refers to that the EU parliament has invited CEOs of the tech giants to a hearing in February or March – an invitation that they had not answered to when Kaili talked to Moonshot.News.
”We have invited now the CEOs of the top multinational Gatekeepers to come to the Parliament and discuss the conditions. I’ve already watched some of their interviews and some of the hearings they held in the US Congress and I would say, with the right questions, everybody admitted that they should be regulated. They just need clear rules!”
Kaili also stresses that the IT is not a homogeneous group.
”They do have different business models. One is the targeted advertisement model, the other one is a messaging application and the third is a marketplace etc… So I think we should consider having different boxes for them. They should be made aware that the bigger one gets, the more responsibilities one has.”
“We have to try to clear the air and see if they are willing to collaborate. We could make a very strong framework that could also give them space to develop without fearing that regulation will come and disrupt their business models. And that way, we will also open up to innovation, to startups without the killer acquisitions that the big ones make to remove any competition.”
Q: As you mentioned advertising as one of the business models, I would like to refer to the fraudulent advertising issue; this is for instance one area that companies would benefit from trying to solve by cooperating with institutions like the commission. What’s your view on that?
Kaili stresses the need to for transparency and principles:
“I think this would solve many things and I’m actually now one of the EU Parliament’ s rapporteurs for the new directive for cybersecurity. This is about the network information system and cybersecurity efforts. We will try to impose fines for the ones that cannot prove that they keep our data safe and have safe content online. We will also talk about product safety meaning liability for platforms. to have a form of liability. Platforms, like Amazon, don’t just take fees to put you on their platform but they also take a percentage ot the sales. This means they’re like participating in this product. They cannot say they are not liable because they are just platforms! They get a percentage from the sales so they should have liability for the product sold.
”More clear definitions and principles and fines would help us eliminate fraudulent advertising. With the geo-blocking decision for content to prevent the redirection from one site to another, it will be clear who has the responsibility and who is hosting these links”.
Q: Do you think that fostering a European start-up community can be a strategy versus the non-European big tech? How do you evaluate the current status of that environment in Europe?
We are quite different than the US and the Chinese markets. We have 24 different languages, different tax and legal systems – issues we are trying to address with establishing the Digital Single Market.
I do not think we have a problem with the number of start-ups in Europe but we need to help them scale-up and remain in Europe. We are addressing this with the new investment tools that give more liquidity and improvements for the European Investment Bank to take more of the risk. We are also launching even more strong digital innovation hubs and above all as mentioned with the Digital Single Market.
We want to facilitate new active systems of innovation and under the prism of the pandemic we want them to become more resilient, under any circumstances.
Some times people ask me whether we are protectionists – and I would say yes, but as a choice. It is a choice that we don’t want to give the companies access to just any data. We want to protect human rights, we want to protect the right to privacy and freedom of speech and the right to disconnect (something we are discussing now how to address as well).
So, I consider that even if we lose this battle for unicorns, we have won the battle for quality of life: If you have quality standards in place, in the end, democracy and quality of life will win the hearts of people and then we will also see the benefits in our economy.
Q: You started as politician in the local municipality, became a member of the Greek and then the European Parliament. How was it for a young woman to build her career first at a national and then at a European level? What was easy, what was difficult?
I believe you already know the answer and that you have faced exactly the same challenges yourself… When you exit your comfort zone, your family, your city, your country, it is not an easy thing. People also react differently to you when you are very young because of your age as well – but I was very idealistic and very passionate and refused to accept those limitations.
In the beginning I faced a lot of rejection, I would say that nobody would have had high expectations from a woman, or a young woman in Greece, in the parliament or in the municipality where I started from.
It was very difficult to get them to listen to you, or to have a different approach. And it was very difficult to have the right of having another opinion, or even an opinion until you had proved them with your experience that you had acquired this right.
It was very different though when I entered the European parliament. The society had changed a lot over the last 20 years and I was more experienced. It was easier also because there people have to cooperate and understand colleagues from different backgrounds, cultures, histories. They have to compromise to move forward together. So things are better there, you see parties and countries that have achieved or overachieved gender equality in the composition of their teams. So there things are happening and you have an opportunity to develop.
And I would say actually in the digital sector you see more women now who are more powerful and active than in any other sector.
So I believe that women in European Union now have the best time to enter the digital economy. But we are still not taking it for granted. We are still trying by law to make sure that the roles are more equally distributed among the genders, like CEOs, Board members positions etc…
Q: Do you have any advice for women facing challenges to speak publicly and have their voice heard?
So I would say, nobody will come and tell you come, speak… You have to ask for it and they will say no. Once, twice, three, ten times… Don’t take it personally! Just keep being demanding! I believe this is the only way to explore your limits, even discover that there are actually not any limits. You will manage to get a ‘yes’.
But if you do not demand it, you will never get a yes. If you do not speak up, nobody will offer you the floor easily.
So for me it has actually worked. I have been more demanding and aggressive than anybody would expect and it played out right. And now I am trying to open up the way to more women or more people of any gender who do not have the character to be so demanding.