Web Summit, Lisbon, 7 November 2017
"Check against delivery"
Ladies and gentlemen
It's wonderful to be with you in Lisbon today.
It's great to be able to wander through streets that are so full of echoes of the past, as well as plans for the future.
As long as you don't mind climbing a few hills.
Where I come from, on the west coast of Denmark, the landscape is rather different. It's completely flat, with a big sky stretching out in all directions.
And just as the Atlantic has always called out to the people of Portugal, the wide horizons I grew up with also helped us dream big dreams. To believe that each one of us has the power to make a difference.
Asking “why not?”
When I was twenty, I decided to run for the Danish parliament. Not that I had any chance of getting elected. But I knew that I’d learn a lot by doing it. And so I thought, why not?
And if I could sum up the feeling here at the Web Summit in two words, those would be the ones. Why not?
When people ask, why you? Why now? Why change things that we’re used to, even if they're not quite right? The answer that comes back is – why not?
That's the spirit that opens up new horizons. It's the spirit that has made the Internet and digital technologies an essential part of our everyday life.
But what if that spirit wasn't enough on its own? What if the thing that was holding back innovation wasn't our own determination, but the actions of powerful companies?
Well, then we would certainly need competition rules. Because competition makes innovation work.
Competition and innovation
Let me read you a quote.
"When you have to interact with other agents, you have to adapt. If you don't, you'll lose."
It wasn't a competition enforcer who said that. It was the creator of a machine learning project which puts two robots in a virtual sumo arena. When they start, those robots don't even know how to walk. But after about a billion contests, they’ve learned sumo wrestling. Not by being taught. Not by watching someone do it. But simply by competing.
That’s what competition does. It drives us to get better. It helps us achieve things we had no idea we could do.
And that means it's a problem when successful companies, which dominate the market, decide to use their power to shut down competition. Because that can end up closing the door to innovation.
That's why dominant companies like Google have a special responsibility not to undermine competition. And we had to fine Google because it didn't live up to that responsibility.
When it discovered that its comparison shopping service wasn't doing very well, Google was free to compete by improving its service.
But what we can't accept is that it used the power of its search engine to deny others a chance to compete. When it started to show its own comparison shopping service at the top of the first page of search results, while demoting its rivals, so they only appeared – on average – on page four.
That got in the way of the competition that drives innovation forward. And by making sure these markets are open for competition, our decision will help innovation to thrive.
Big data and competition
We also need to make sure mergers don't undermine competition, and make it harder for innovative businesses to succeed.
And the more important data becomes for competition, the more closely we need to look at mergers that bring together large sets of data.
That doesn't mean we’re suspicious about big data itself. We know data can help us do wonderful things. Like building autonomous cars, which could help us cut pollution and spend less time in traffic jams – and give people with disabilities more mobility than ever before. Or helping wind farms to operate more efficiently, making the shift to renewable energy easier.
But controlling large amounts of data shouldn't become a way to shut rivals out of the market.
We looked at that issue last year, when Microsoft bought LinkedIn. We wanted to know whether bringing the companies’ data together would make it too hard for others to compete.
In the end, we found that this wasn't an issue in that case. Because other companies still had access to plenty of data. But if data does become an obstacle to competition, we have the tools we need to stop that.
Special tax treatment
And it’s not just companies that can undermine competition.
When a government gives special tax treatment to a few companies, that makes it hard for anyone else to compete on equal terms. That’s why we’ve taken action against selective tax benefits.
We are also working towards changing rules on taxing the digital economy – to make sure our tax systems are fair. Our hope is to agree a new international approach by spring 2018.
Playing by the rules
The problem isn't that some companies are big and successful. That success is a good thing. It inspires others to try and match it. After all, what startup founder could honestly say that they wouldn't like to be like Google one day?
So we’ve never objected to the fact that Google’s search engine dominates the market. We just don't want it to use that dominance to squeeze out innovation.
Because we don't think success should depend on a company’s size, or its connections with government. It should depend, quite simply, on the merits of its products.
The importance of trust
And that's more important today than ever before. Because the Internet has become part of people's everyday lives.
And that means that all of us – whether we’re fans of technology or not – are being asked to put our trust in a new digital world.
Of course, technology can help us to trust each other more. We can use the reviews on sharing economy apps to know whether we can trust people we’ve never even met.
But more and more, we’re being asked to put our trust not just in other people, but in computers and algorithms. Algorithms most of us don't fully understand. Whose workings might be a mystery even to those who use them to run their businesses.
So today, the biggest challenge to the future of innovation isn't whether we have enough ideas. It's whether that new technology can succeed in winning the public’s trust.
And we need to listen carefully when less than a quarter of Europeans say they trust online businesses to protect their personal information. When only 7% of Europeans say they consider that stories published on social networks are generally trustworthy.
To change that, we need the right rules in place. Like the new privacy rules that will apply in Europe from next May. We need businesses to take these issues seriously, and build systems that can earn people’s trust.
Competition and trust
And competition enforcement can also make a difference. Because it can give people confidence that online businesses are playing fair.
Of course, the market is only one part of our lives. It certainly isn't the same thing as society. But we all deal with the market every single day. And the way companies treat us affects our whole view of the world around us.
So it matters when people see that businesses treat them fairly.
It matters because we need the spirit of this event – the spirit of why not – to help us answer the challenges our societies face. And that spirit can't achieve its potential unless our markets, and our society, have room for innovation.
Competition enforcement can help. But the biggest responsibility is yours. Companies have to take fairness and trust just as seriously as they do innovation. So we can make the most of what technology can do for us.