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Europe and Biden ‘on the same page’ over Big Tech regulation, EU chief says

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Key Points
  • Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU's executive arm, is confident that the new U.S. president will be an "ally" in fighting disinformation online and stepping up the rules on how tech firms operate.
  • The 27-member bloc has big ambitions for the new U.S. administration and it was not shy to demonstrate that on Inauguration Day.
  • "Europe is coming forward with these standards, but I am convinced that the United States will be attentively listening because Joe Biden has always been a politician who was cherishing the rules-based order," von der Leyen said.
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Europe and Biden 'on the same page' over tech regulation, EU chief says

LONDON — President-elect Joe Biden and the European Union are "on the same page" when it comes to regulating tech giants, the head of the European Commission told CNBC on Wednesday.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU's executive arm, is confident that the new U.S. president will be an "ally" in fighting disinformation online and stepping up the rules on how tech firms operate.

The 27-member bloc has big ambitions for the new U.S. administration and it was not shy to demonstrate that on Inauguration Day.

"If there's hate out there, if there's polarization, fake news, all of these are things that are threats to our democracies and I am sure that we will have an ally to work on that," von der Leyen said.

Tech regulation has been a priority among European officials, but the Capitol riots and the subsequent actions of Twitter, Facebook and others have increased the calls for action. Some lawmakers have questioned whether these companies should be treated as publishers rather than tech firms — meaning they would be more accountable for the content available on their platforms.

"Europe is coming forward with these standards, but I am convinced that the United States will be attentively listening because Joe Biden has always been a politician who was cherishing the rules-based order," von der Leyen said.

It is important to put rules already in place in the offline world "in the online world," von der Leyen said. "That is for me important, that is for Joe Biden important and therefore I think we are on the same page," she added.

Speaking earlier on Wednesday, von der Leyen had expressed her support for "clear guidelines that the internet companies take responsibility for the content they distribute."

Hopes to tackle 'big global topics' together

Several digital platforms decided to ban or impose restrictions on the social media accounts of Trump, "due to the risk of further incitement of violence." The outgoing president has been accused of supporting and even inciting the riots that took place in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 which led to the death of five people.

"As right as it may have been that Twitter switched off Donald Trump's account five minutes after twelve - such serious interventions in freedom of expression should be made on the basis of laws and not according to the rules of the game of companies, based on the decision of politicians and parliaments and not the managers of Silicon Valley," von der Leyen told lawmakers in Brussels.

The EU has been at the forefront of tech regulation, with a landmark data privacy law, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in 2018, and, more recently, with a plan to impose stricter controls on how the tech giants operate. The plan includes a so-called Digital Services Act which aims to address illegal and harmful content by asking tech firms, such as Twitter, to quickly take it down.

The Biden transition team was not immediately available to comment when contacted by CNBC on Wednesday.

Speaking to the New York Times about Big Tech regulation a year ago, Biden said: "I've been in the view that not only should we be worrying about the concentration of power, we should be worried about the lack of privacy."

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Why the EU is getting tough on Big Tech

Von der Leyen is not expecting Biden to implement the exact same legislation in the United States, but she is hoping "to sit down together and look at what are the big global topics that we want to tackle together."

The European Union has put forward the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act, "but the topic is much broader," von der Leyen said.