Four years ago, in a pioneering diplomatic move, the government of Denmark appointed the worlds-first Tech Ambassador to Silicon Valley in attempt to improve relations with the tech industry and seek to more effectively regulate big tech.
Many commentators have raised the alarm on the power of global big tech corporations such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook. Amazon, for example, has a market cap of $1.7 trillion, which is larger than the GDP of tech savvy South Korea.
Casper Klynge, the first ever Danish Tech Ambassador to Silicon Valley, agrees. Speaking to the Danish diplomatic corps in 2017, he remarked “What has the biggest impact on daily society? A country in southern Europe, or in Southeast Asia, or Latin America, or would it be the big technology platforms?”
Unsurprisingly, four years on from the Tech Ambassador’s appointment, Denmark has not been able to regulate big tech in the ways it might have liked. But neither has any other country around the world. Denmark has, however, improved the country’s tech capabilities and investments with the help of a promotional campaign that included the Tech Ambassador. Furthermore, for a country of its size, Denmark has had a positively disproportionate role in regional and global discussions on how to better regulate big tech.
The material benefits of ‘Techplomacy’
According to official documents, the Tech Ambassador’s role focuses on ‘democracy, security and responsible tech development.’ But has this change made any tangible differences to Denmark’s relationship with tech?
Although it is difficult to draw a causal link, data from GlobalData’s Disruptor platform shows that Denmark’s deal volume and deal value has increased in the Tech, Media, and Telecoms sector between 2017-2020 – coinciding with Denmark’s Tech Ambassador’s first term.
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Furthermore, jobs in the Tech industry have increased significantly in the last two years, signalling increased investment in the sector.
Denmark leads on regulation
Denmark has positioned itself front-and-center in EU leadership when it comes to tech regulation for the benefit of its citizens. The country has partnered with France to promote a ‘Declaration on a European Vision for the Digital Age’, a commitment to work together and a set of policy recommendations which would, if adopted, commit the bloc to a democratic and human rights-based approach to technology. Additionally, Denmark has consistently raised concerns regarding the human rights implications of new tech, such as misinformation, to the UN Human Rights Council and, along with Australia, has launched an annual Cyber and Tech Retreat attended by over 20 countries.
Domestically, 30 of Denmark’s media companies joined forces in June to negotiate a remuneration for use of their online content by Google and Facebook. These negotiations, however, could take years to finalize, but the shift in power and impetus is notable.
Denmark’s Tech Ambassador has also penned a White Paper titled ‘Towards a better social contract with big tech’ which argues in favor of safeguarding democracy, protecting young people, and tax compliance, to name a few.
However, many of these demands are far from being met. This month, with the Congressional testimony of Facebook whistle-blower Frances Haugen, we saw that Facebook neglects vulnerable young users and fails to do enough to protect democracy. Furthermore, Facebook’s 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal led to 2.7 million EU citizens having their data improperly shared. Simultaneously, Amazon and Google continue to avoid paying their fair share of taxes across the EU.
But most importantly, Denmark has understood the pervasive impact of big tech on its citizenry and has taken a leading role in global tech regulation. Denmark has proven itself to be both creative and committed when it comes to dealing with big tech, if more countries followed suit, big tech would certainly become more accountable to those that it serves around the world.