The founder of Proton, the company behind ProtonMail and ProtonVPN, has critiqued the latest attempts by the EU to rein in the power of Big Tech.
In an exclusive interview with TechRadar Pro, Andy Yen described the proposed Digital Markets Act (DMA) as “a huge benefit to society, but also a missed opportunity”.
“The EU didn’t quite go far enough, and that’s a big problem, because this is a once in a generation type of legislation,” he said.
The power of the default
The DMA is a piece of legislation expected soon to be enshrined in EU law that seeks to limit the power of so-called “technology gatekeepers” – such as Apple, Meta and Google – which stand accused of using their market position and wealth of resources to squeeze out smaller competitors.
The vice-like grip held by these firms over a range of platforms and product types is said to limit the potential for companies like Proton, which offers privacy-centric email, VPN, cloud storage and calendaring services, to draw large volumes of users away from the US tech giants.
According to Yen, although the DMA will have a positive effect on the availability of alternative services, the EU made a crucial mistake in failing to tackle the ability for platform operators to “self-preference” their own services.
In reality, no matter the breadth of alternatives available, the vast majority of users will never switch away from the default. In effect, this means companies who compete in the same categories as the largest technology companies are unlikely to make genuine in-roads, no matter the quality of their services.
“If antitrust regulation doesn’t tackle defaults, it is only addressing 5% of the problem. That’s really the elephant in the room,” Yen told us.
“[On Android], email is the thing that ties together the entire Google ecosystem, but the DMA doesn’t prohibit Google from self-preferencing for Gmail. If you don’t tackle that piece, you don’t break the monopoly.”
A new model for regulators
A significant part of the problem is that regulators are not equipped with the level of technical expertise necessary to unpick the complexities of the issues at hand, Yen added. And he also believes regulators need to revise the process for defining new legislation, in line with the speed at which the technology industry is developing.
“The way legislation used to work is that you would make one giant landmark legislation, then leave it alone for a century. But that old model is not compatible with the world today, which moves so quickly.”
“We need policymakers to be thinking in a different way, with policies updated every one or two years rather than once in a generation. An iterative and therefore more agile approach is what’s needed.”
Challenged on whether this kind of approach is feasible, given the number of moving parts and the need for each piece of legislation to be properly ratified, Yen suggested it’s important to bear in mind the bigger picture.
“It shouldn’t be a question of feasibility, it should be about what’s necessary. Otherwise, your economy will be dominated by just a handful of companies,” he said. “We have the duty and obligation to legislate properly.”
A write-up of TechRadar Pro’s full conversation with Andy Yen will be published in the coming weeks.