Digital Empires: The Global Battle to Regulate Technology

Join us for a compelling virtual event, “Digital Empires: The Global Battle to Regulate Technology,” featuring Anu Bradford, Henry L. Moses Distinguished Professor of Law and International Organization at Columbia Law School. Professor Bradford will delve into the complex landscape of digital governance, examining the ongoing struggle to regulate technology giants on a global scale. Gain valuable insights into the challenges, strategies, and implications of regulating powerful digital empires. Don’t miss this opportunity to deepen your understanding of the evolving dynamics at the intersection of law, technology, and global power structures.***

Brought to you by the Mendoza College of Business and Notre Dame Alumni Association.

***This description was written with ChatGPT using the following prompt: “Write a 100 word description of a virtual event titled “Digital Empires: The Global Battle to Regulate Technology” featuring Anu Bradford, Henry L. Moses Distinguished Professor of Law and International Organization at Columbia Law School, Columbia University in the City of New York.”

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On the fifth of eight lectures in the Ten Years Hence Speaker Series, host Brian Levey, Teaching Professor at the Mendoza College of Business, welcomed the esteemed Anu Bradford, Henry L. Moses Distinguished Professor of Law and International Organization at Columbia Law School, to delve into the intricacies of tech regulation and the global struggle for digital sovereignty. 

The lecture shed light on the rapidly evolving landscape of technology governance and what it means for the future of global order. Professor Bradford, renowned for her expertise in international law and her influential work on the “Brussels effect,” engaged the audience with a compelling exposition of the trilateral power struggle between the United States, the European Union, and China. The episode opened with Levy’s articulate introduction of Professor Bradford, setting the stage for a discussion that would unravel the complex fabric of international technology policy.

The conversation quickly turned to the Snowden revelations and how this moment of historical significance laid bare the covert extent of data sharing with the U.S. National Security Agency. This turning point served as a catalyst for the necessity of a federal privacy law, according to the expertise shared in the episode, reflecting the need to rebuild trust and establish more robust data protections for individuals within the United States. Levy and Bradford engaged in a deep dive into the need for revived antitrust legislations as a means to address the concentration of market power in the hands of a few large tech companies. The monopoly of these digital giants not only stifles competition but also poses a significant threat to consumer privacy and democracy itself.

Bradford articulated the dichotomy of artificial intelligence as both a boon and a bane, highlighting the imperative for governance measures that span sectors as diverse as healthcare to the very sanctity of election processes. The nuanced debate touched on content moderation and the clarity of algorithms as essential tools in deciphering how tech companies shape discourse and, ultimately, societies.

The discussion provided a stark narrative on the battles between “empires” delineated by Bradford. The distinction between horizontal struggles, such as the US-China tech war and the European-American regulatory contest, was made clear, as well as the vertical confrontations between governments and mammoth tech conglomerates. Through the discussion, it was revealed that the United States is reconsidering its erstwhile techno-libertarian stance in favor of more comprehensive regulation. However, according to Bradford, the U.S. may be losing the horizontal struggle, as countries gravitate toward a European regulatory model driven by rights and privacy protection.

Bradford shared concerns about the European model hindering innovation due to market fragmentation, funding impediments, a distinct risk culture, and talent acquisition barriers. Despite these concerns, she contended that America’s robust tech ecosystem’s successes extend beyond just digital regulation.

As the conversation progressed, the hurdles that companies like Meta encounter with regulatory constraints in Europe were dissected. Bradford stressed the importance of state power in holding these tech giants accountable, with the U.S. playing a critical role in this digital reckoning.

In the latter part of the podcast, Levy and Bradford addressed the imperative of America investing concretely and providing diplomatic support to maintain sovereignty in technology. Bradford underscored the importance of involving developing countries in the stakes of digital development and democratizing access to transformative technologies like artificial intelligence.

Bradford and Levy capably illustrated how global digital markets are managed with an eye toward shared prosperity and cooperation. However, Bradford expressed skepticism about the U.S. Congress’s capacity to enact effective tech regulation, suggesting that European regulatory frameworks might offer a more viable solution.

Closing the episode, Bradford argued for a comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States, aligning its digital governance closer to European standards while also strengthening American data protections against both commercial and government exploitation.

This installment of Ten Years Hence concluded with a detailed exploration of the “digital empires,” their distinctive governance models, and the global ramifications of their regulatory clashes. The intricate dance of these influential powers will undoubtedly shape the digital trajectory of the world, with liberal democracy hanging delicately in the balance. It was an insightful session that left the listeners with a clear understanding of the various geopolitical and digital forces at play and the pressing need for coherent and effective regulation in an increasingly interconnected world.

Impact of Snowden Revelations

The extent of data privacy violations by the NSA as uncovered by Snowden has necessitated a reevaluation of international data-sharing and the urgent need for a comprehensive federal privacy law in the US to restore global trust.


Modernization of Antitrust Laws

Antitrust laws are historically suited to deal with more traditional industries. The tech sector’s rapid growth and unique dynamics call for a tailored approach to prevent market abuse and ensure fair competition.

Governance of Artificial Intelligence 

There’s a need for detailed ethical frameworks and regulatory policies specifically aimed at AI to protect the rights of individuals, as the technology’s potential risks in healthcare and elections could be significant.

Importance of Content Moderation and Algorithmic Transparency

Recognizing the inherent power of tech companies in shaping discourse, the episode underlines the necessity for these entities to be transparent about their algorithms and accountable for their content moderation practices.


US-EU Collaboration and the “Brussels Effect” 

Transatlantic cooperation is increasingly viewed as vital. The lecture highlights the growing influence of the EU’s regulatory standards globally and the potential positive outcomes from a coordinated regulatory strategy.


Global Compliance with Tech Regulations

Effective enforcement mechanisms and international alliances might compel tech companies to adhere to agreed standards, reflecting on the difficulties inherent in regulating vast, cross-border digital operations.


Digital Governance Models

The dialogue illuminated the distinctions between the American, Chinese, and European approaches to digital governance, with each embodying different values and implications for global tech policy.


Building Regulatory Frameworks: Trust and Society’s Role

The European model of regulation owes part of its success to the balance of government trust and active participation of both lobbyists and civil society, which contrasts with the more insular and corporate-driven American approach.


Involvement of Developing Countries in Digital Development

The lecture stresses the importance of inclusive technological advancement and the responsibility of developed nations to ensure equitable access to cutting-edge technologies for all countries, fostering global digital democratization.


Lessons from European Tech Regulation

With the U.S. grappling with tech regulation, insights into the effective European privacy and data protection frameworks offer valuable lessons, including the benefits of harmonizing regulations and possibly paving the way for a robust federal privacy law in the U.S.

These key moments summarize essential takeaways from the podcast episode, providing listeners with a comprehensive understanding of the complexities and urgency surrounding artificial intelligence and technology regulation within a global context.

  • Global Technology Governance Models: “The government is reserved a minimalist role, and the governance of technology is in practice handed over to the tech companies themselves. So it is a techno optimist, techno libertarian view of the world.”
    Anu Bradford [00:03:22 → 00:03:36]


  • Digital Domination Strategies: “The Chinese are mainly exporting what I call infrastructure power. Chinese tech companies are building 5G networks, undersea cables, data centers, smart cities, safe cities, exporting these surveillance technologies along what is known as the digital silk road that reaches across Asia, big parts of Africa, Latin America. And in doing so, the Chinese are building the digital backbones, the digital infrastructures for markets around the world and exporting Chinese digital authoritarian values.”
    Anu Bradford [00:07:13 → 00:07:51]


  • The Brussels Effect: “The Brussels effect captures this notion of a European unilateral global regulatory power.”
    Anu Bradford [00:08:31 → 00:08:42]


  • Potential and Challenges of AI in Development: “There is a great potential for foundation models, for instance, to provide a platform for technological development. In developing countries, many have said that it is a great equalizer that can level the playing field.”
    Anu Bradford [00:34:20 → 00:34:33]


  • Global AI Governance Dynamics: “But then, the UN has, for instance, its own high level advisory group to say that we are the institution that really has the broad base and we can make sure that this development is more equal.”
    Anu Bradford [00:35:38 → 00:35:49]


  • Regulatory Challenges in Tech: “Where the European model can actually be institutionalized also in legislative frameworks in the U.S. But if you think about the magnitude of the problems that we have, and that call for legislation, it is really unfortunate how paralyzed the US Congress has been and how much it’s free riding on Europeans. So basically, the Europeans are providing the regulatory frameworks. The Brussels effect is often the best hope of American digital citizens.”
    — Anu Bradford [00:37:56 → 00:38:26]
  • Transatlantic Relations and China: “But I think something has shifted now that the Europeans are moving closer to the Americans in their approach towards China, and I would really pinpoint as the main reason for that is China’s refusal to condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine. That’s an existential battle for the Europeans, and that has made it very clear for the Europeans that China is not condemning when somebody’s violently, vehemently, breaching international law and engaging in illegal aggression and basically bringing war to Europe.”
    — Anu Bradford [00:49:41 → 00:50:00]


  • Regulatory Challenges for Meta in Europe: “I don’t think companies like Meta can afford the European market because, ultimately, They can’t go to China. There’s no way of going to the Chinese censorship regime if you’re operating a search engine or you’re running a social media platform. You can try to go to India. Lots of internet users there. But as long as your revenue model, your business model relies on advertising, Per user advertising revenue is so much higher in developed markets than in developing markets, you need to pick up a lot of users in order to compensate for what you use in Europe.”
    Anu Bradford [00:53:18 → 00:53:49]


  • European Approach to Tech Regulation: “Right now, Europeans are thinking much more about their vulnerabilities and moving towards protectionism, but traditionally, it’s not the kind of protectionism these American companies, hence Europeans are able to go after them.”
    Anu Bradford [00:58:54 → 00:59:06]

Artificial IntelligenceMendoza College of BusinessTen Years HenceUniversity of Notre Dame

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