Obama: EU investigations into Google and Facebook commercially driven

17 Feb 2015

US President Barack Obama

US President Barack Obama has said that EU investigations into social network Facebook and search giant Google’s privacy methods were motivated by European commercial interests.

In an interview with veteran tech writer and Re/Code executive editor Kara Swisher following the White House Summit on Cyber Security and Consumer Protection at Stanford University in California, Obama intimated at least twice that European business interests drove regulatory scrutiny on US companies.

Discussing the disclosures by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden, Obama admitted his administration has been trying to update laws and rules governing cyberspace but in the case of the US National Security Agency (NSA), it hasn’t been fast enough.

“What is true — and I’ve said this publicly, so I’m not saying anything that’s classified in any way — our capacities to scoop up information became so great, and traditionally there haven’t been restraints on our intelligence community scooping up information from outside our borders and non-US persons.

‘Some of those countries have their own companies who want to displace ours’

“So what ended up happening was that, in places like Germany, this had a huge impact — not just on government-to-government relations, but suddenly all the Silicon Valley companies that are doing business there find themselves challenged, in some cases not completely sincerely. Because some of those countries have their own companies who want to displace ours.”

Later in the interview, Obama suggested that European privacy investigations into Facebook and Google were motivated by commercial interests but disguised as moral concerns.

“In defence of Google and Facebook, sometimes the European response here is more commercially driven than anything else. As I’ve said, there are some countries like Germany, given its history with the Stasi, that are very sensitive to these issues. But sometimes their vendors — their service providers who, you know, can’t compete with ours — are essentially trying to set up some roadblocks for our companies to operate effectively there.

“We have owned the internet. Our companies have created it, expanded it, perfected it in ways that they can’t compete. And oftentimes what is portrayed as high-minded positions on issues sometimes is just designed to carve out some of their commercial interests.”

Kara Swisher will be a speaker at Inspire 2015, Silicon Republic’s international event running 18-19 June in Dublin that connects sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM with fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity. Buy your early bird tickets now

Obama image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years