Google CEO Apologizes for Document; EU’s Breton Warns Internet Can’t Be ‘Wild West’

November 13, 2020 Updated: November 15, 2020

Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai has apologized to European industry chief Thierry Breton over a leaked internal document proposing ways to counter the European Union’s tough new rules for technology companies.

Pichai and Breton exchanged views in a video-conference call late on Nov. 12, the third this year, according to a statement from the European Commission.

“The Internet cannot remain a ‘Wild West’: we need clear and transparent rules, a predictable environment and balanced rights and obligations,” Breton told Pichai.

The call came after a Google internal document outlined a 60-day strategy to counter the European Union’s push for the new rules by getting U.S. allies to push back against Breton.

The call was initiated by Google before the document was leaked.

Breton brought up the leaked document and showed it to Pichai during the call and said that there was no need to use old century tactics and to play one unit at the Commission against another, a person familiar with the call said.

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Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai looks on during a session of the 50th World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 22, 2020. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

Pichai apologized for the way the document, a paper that he says he hadn’t seen nor approved, came out, saying that he would engage directly with Breton if he sees language and policy that specifically targets Google, another person familiar with the call said.

Google said the two had a frank but open conversation.

“Our online tools have been a lifeline to many people and businesses through lockdown, and Google is committed to continuing to innovate and build services that can contribute to Europe’s economic recovery post-COVID,” spokesman Al Verney said in a statement.

The incident underlines the intense lobbying by tech companies against the proposed EU rules, which could impede their businesses and force changes in how they operate.

Breton will announce new draft rules known as the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act together with European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager on Dec. 2.

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EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton holds a video news conference, to present a “White Paper” to better arm the EU against unfair competition from heavily subsidized foreign companies, at the European Commission in Brussels, on June 17, 2020. (Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via Reuters)

The rules will set out a list of do’s and don’ts for gatekeepers—online companies with market power—forcing them to share data with rivals and regulators and not to promote their services and products unfairly.

“Everything that is allowed offline should be authorized online; and everything that is forbidden offline should be banned online,” Breton said.

Breton told Pichai that he would increase the EU’s power to curb unfair behavior by gatekeeping platforms, so that the internet doesn’t just benefit a handful of companies but also Europe’s small- and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs.

“Europe’s position is clear: everyone is welcome on our continent—as long as they respect our rules,” he told Pichai.

By Foo Yun Chee