Sat, Jul 12, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Principles are no match for Europe’s love of US tech titans

By Mark Scott  /  NY Times News Service, LONDON

On weekends, Guillaume Rosquin browses the shelves of local bookstores in Lyon, France. He enjoys peppering the staff with questions about what he should be reading next. However, his visits, he says, are also a protest against the growing power of Amazon.com Inc. He is bothered by the way the US online retailer treats its warehouse employees.

Still, as with millions of other Europeans, there is a limit to how much he will protest.

“It depends on the price,” said Rosquin, 49, who acknowledged that he was planning to buy a US$400 BlackBerry smartphone on Amazon because the handset was not yet available on rival French Web sites.

“If you can get something for half-price at Amazon, you may put your issues with their working conditions aside,” he said.

Across Europe, love — or at least acceptance — often wins out in the love-hate relationship with US tech companies like Amazon, Facebook Inc and Google Inc.

Despite their often vocal criticism of these behemoths, people in the region are some of the most active and loyal users of US social networks, search engines and e-commerce Web sites. They are often even more hooked on the services than Americans are.

Google now has an 85 percent market share for search in the region’s five largest economies, including Britain, France and Germany, compared with less than 80 percent in 2009, according to the research company comScore. Google’s share of the US market stands at about 65 percent.

INTERNET DOMINANCE

Facebook — the target of several government investigations for its tax practices in Europe — has also more than doubled its number of European users to more than 150 million in the past five years, and the social network’s European user numbers now outpace US figures, social media research company eMarketer said.

US tech companies operate seven of the 10 most visited Web sites in Europe, comScore statistics showed. From Europe, only Yandex and Mail.ru, a Russian search engine and an e-mail site, and Axel Springer, the German publisher of Die Welt and Bild, make the list.

Nonetheless, from Spain to Sweden, many of Europe’s millions of Internet users regularly complain about the dominance of US tech companies, particularly about how users’ data is used and shared. It also leaves them wondering why so few home-grown tech companies are globally competitive.

For many Europeans, the likes of Twitter Inc and Amazon hold too much information about what people do online. That wariness has only grown stronger after the revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about US intelligence agencies’ spying activities and demonstrated easy access to the world’s tech infrastructure.

In some ways, Europeans are pushing back.

Last month, Google started removing some links to online search results after Europe’s highest court ruled that the company had to give people the right to request that information be taken down.

And the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, is finishing new rules — tougher than those currently in force in the US — intended to strengthen the region’s privacy protections for online data.

PRICE TO PAY

Still, Europeans are loath to leave the services they deride.

For Stuart Turnbull, 42, a writer who lives two hours north of Edinburgh, Scotland, a reliance on US tech companies has become the cost of doing business.

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