Tech Optimism at Davos Tempered by Trade Anxiety and Regulation
Foto: World Economic Forum
Tech companies are back pitching the promise of innovation, but this time they’re welcoming government oversight, according to Bloomberg. This was the broad consensus at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which was devoted this year to the theme of Globalization 4.0.
Global leaders and technology chieftains agreed on the need for stricter government oversight, after a year that featured privacy scandals at Facebook Inc. and a broad reckoning of the tech industry. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for global rules on data security. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a speech that his country would aim to propose a system for oversight of private data use at the Group of 20 Nations meeting in June.
Every company “must adhere to the core principle of data as a human right and privacy as a human right,” echoed Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, in a conversation with Klaus Schwab, founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum. Nadella said GDPR, the European data privacy rules that went into effect last year, are a good start. “We all want to converge on a global standard.”
This year’s tone differs from 12 months ago, where titans such as George Soros accused Facebook and Google of being monopolies that foster addiction. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, showed up at Davos for the first time, mixing with politicians, in the middle of a slowdown for iPhones. Added to the talk of more regulation is an undercurrent of anxiety over bilateral trade tensions and the potential impact on the global economy. Apple’s supply chain is particularly at risk.
The technology industry once enjoyed the luxury of a globalized supply chain, manufacturing components in regions with the lowest costs, then seamlessly integrating them into finished products. Now the specter of protectionism threatens to make that model uneconomical. Companies like Hon Hai, manufacturer of the iPhone, are looking beyond China to countries like India to reduce the risks that come with the concentration of production in a single country.
Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff talked about the responsibility of companies to give back to their communities and about the precarious state of the planet’soceans. Bill Gates discussed global health. Jack Ma, the retiring chairman of Alibaba Group, warned again that the misuses of advanced technologies like artificial intelligence could lead to military conflict.