Former Publicis Groupe chief executive, Maurice Lévy has called for a data tax on tech firms that would compensate Internet users for the exploitation of their personal information.
The French advertising titan suggested that the imposition of a data charge would “change everything” in regard to the public’s relationship with tech companies. He said it would be a more effective use of the European Union’s regulatory powers than the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) introduced last year to improve online privacy.
“Personal data should belong to each and every consumer. Every time that data is used I think the data agglomerator that is going to be making a profit should pay consumers in one way or another,” Lévy said today (14 May) in Paris at an event discussing the future of Europe.
“[Consumers] have to be paid and receive part of the revenue – then you would reshuffle the cards, you would change everything,” he said.
Lévy also complained that European institutions had failed to create the necessary climate for digital start-ups to thrive. “The problem is not regulation, the problem start-ups are faced with is there’s no such thing as a European ecosystem.”
He said that in Silicon Valley, Boston and even in “a small country like Israel”, that universities, venture capitalists and other investment funds were coming forward to support entrepreneurs “who want to change the world and actually do change it”.
But he said that even after discussions with senior French politicians, including President Emmanuel Macron and former President François Hollande, he had been unable to progress with plans for improving Europe’s digital infrastructure. “The real problem is a cultural problem,” he said. “We still are behind our borders [of] 28 different countries with our respective languages and educational systems and banks working on a local basis and national funds.”
The chairman of the Publicis Groupe supervisory board was speaking ahead of the European elections at an event organized by broadcast media company Euronews. Titled “Popular Europe or Populist Europe?”, it examined the impact of the rise of populism on European business and society.
Lévy said that he was concerned by the rise of populist politicians but acknowledged that Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House had not harmed the US economy. “We have to admit he had a very positive impact on business.” He speculated that “there will be more populists in the European Parliament” after the 23 May vote but said their impact would be limited because of the defined role of the institution.
He argued that social networks have played a significant part in the growth of populist agendas and that those platforms must be held to account for their actions. “Nowadays people value much more what is said by their peers than by people who have researched information and that’s why it is extremely dangerous and we have to make those companies feel more responsible.”
Lévy is a former long-serving CEO of Publicis, the world’s third-largest advertising and communications group. He also launched the annual Viva Technology conference, which opens in Paris on Thursday.
Ian Burrell’s column, The News Business, is published on The Drum each Thursday. Follow Ian on Twitter @iburrell