Why Europeans care more about data privacy than Americans


At least according to Europe’s Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager.

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Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s Commissioner for Competition, has a lot of nice things to say about America — including its capital, where she travels frequently to talk to her counterparts at the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice.

“I have a trail that I jog while I’m here and I think that the Reflecting [Pool] and the Washington [Monument] and the Lincoln Memorial are some of the most beautiful man-made places,” Vestager said on the latest episode of Recode Decode.

But as a regulator with a knack for needling tech companies, Vestager also differs from her American peers on how government should view Silicon Valley.

“It is not for me or my services to redo what they do,” Vestager said politely when asked if U.S. regulators had rolled over for the likes of Google and Apple. “Even though we work together very closely on a number of cases, we completely accept if we do things and they don’t.”

She explained why Europe has historically been more critical of tech practices like data collection.

“I am an economist, so I know that there is no such thing as a free lunch,” she said. “You pay with one currency or another — either cents, or you pay with your data, or you pay with the advertisements that you accept. And I think people are becoming more and more aware of the fact that their personal data do have a value.”

“What we see in Europe is that a huge proportion of citizens find that they are not in control,” Vestager added. “They distrust the companies to protect their data, and I think that is very bad, because then there is a risk of withdrawing from all the benefits of our digital economy. And in order to build up trust I think it is very important that we enforce privacy rules, that we get privacy by design in new services, so that privacy is not just an add-on, that it is very basic.”

Despite those cultural differences, Vestager said she and her family are active consumers of Silicon Valley tech. She has two iPhones, one for her work and one for her personal communications, and she has used Facebook some, but prefers using Twitter.

“Twitter is my favorite medium,” she said. “Sometimes I think [my daughters] are breathing through their phones. But it’s, to a large degree, all the bad things being said, it’s a great enabler. It allows you to stay in touch and to have, sometimes, very different relationships than we used to have when I was their age.”

You can listen to this bonus episode of Recode Decode in the audio player above, or subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.

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