Why a digital sovereignty ?

Source: Les

It took me a while before I could formalize this feeling that was bothering me. Noting that digital in particular, but also the entire high-tech industry is becoming the future of our economy, and that the only big names with rare exceptions that monopolize public space are American, Korean and Chinese, it is time to shuffle the cards… Even the Japanese who have been leaders in this market for decades have become secondary players…

Yet in France and in Europe, we have brilliant minds, and universities and engineering schools that produce them. France is also a land of innovation and invention, but which often sees its pioneers going to develop their discoveries under more favorable skies …

Sovereignty and digital landscape in the various regions

If you take a tour of the digital world, this new territory of economic conquest, what can we observe as a type of actor?
First of all, a category that seems important to me, because it comes from the founding philosophy of the web and the wind of freedom and gratuitousness that arose with its development: The actors of Open Source. They are often communities of developers around a technology which gives free access to the source code. Their remuneration is based both on donations, depending on the activism of the users, and on their ability to offer services on the installation and maintenance of the solutions offered.
We then have “private” economic actors, but who, depending on their country of origin, find themselves more or less subservient to the political power in place and to the doctrine that saw their birth.

Let’s start with the first of them, the United States and the GAFAM, but also all the innovative start-ups revolving in their ecosystem. Digital was immediately seen as a new tool for American supremacy (L’express), with the desire to print its culture, its way of life and its economic and moral vision of the world to the entire world community. . The instruments of this hegemony which manifests itself more particularly in Europe because of its passivity, are the GAFA (, I would even say the GAFAM, because let us not forget Microsoft which has known how to become essential in the field of the Suite Office for professional office applications but not only … Thanks to the enthusiasm aroused by innovative products that have won over the general public and by a false free approach, where it is your data that they use to get paid. These data, our data, are at the origin of the fabulous accumulation of cash (LesEchos) that these companies have managed to generate, allowing them to hatch an ecosystem of innovative start-ups through funding: Uber, AirBnB, etc… But above all, it allowed them to buy number of innovative US or foreign start-ups to make them fall into their fold: WhatsApp, Instagram for example for Facebook, Fitbit for Google, Skype for Microsoft…

We will continue with the best enemy of the Americans, Russia. The Soviet empire, wrecked by various technology and arms races, fell apart with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Russia took a long time to recover. However, since the arrival of a strong man, Putin, the country has regained some pride. Despite a faltering economy and still too dependent on raw materials, Putin, relying on oligarchs, has been able to rebuild a powerful Russia through a pragmatic recovery of his armed forces, where a number of innovations have emerged, mainly in the sector of the defense. But Putin understood the threat posed by American digital power and the dependence it entailed, and to counterbalance it has implemented certain initiatives such as the creation of a sovereign internet (sputnik). In addition, Russia, thanks to an educational system that allowed the emergence of great mathematicians, also has some nuggets of digital technology like Kapersky® for antiviruses, but also the Russian competitor of the search engine of Google which is Yandex. Despite a lack of knowledge on my part of the Russian ecosystem, one of these few examples shows that one can free oneself or ease the American digital grip, when there is a strong political will.

Let’s move on to the Asia zone with very different situations between South Korea and Japan on the one hand, US allies and China on the other, the new best enemy of the Americans.
For Korea and Japan, their specialization turned rather to hardware, processors, screens, and smartphones. They also have a few unicorns, but it is a market that I know a lot less well and which seems at the moment quite limited to this geographical area. There are, however, a few emblematic players such as the Nippo-Korean instant messaging Line, which generated a turnover higher than WhatsApp (2014).
For China, it’s a whole different story. With a population of over a billion, an economy that is both hyper liberal and administered and under total control of power, China has been entrusted with the manufacture of all “hardware” (pc , smartphone, chips, etc.) and was thus able to copy and then innovate in the field of new technologies. China is both the supplier of IT and telecom equipment (5G …) to the Western world, but has managed to develop internet giants more powerful in some ways than GAFAMS, such as TikTok, Alibababa, Baidu, Xaomi, Huawei, WeChat, subsidiary of Tecent, etc … In the case of these applications, one thing is certain, your data will be exploited by the Chinese government and the concept of private data does not exist in the land of the middle …

Let us talk about Europe, but it is going to be short … Not that there are no quality French or European solutions, this site is precisely trying to highlight them, but there is no political will to build a powerful Europe in digital. Perhaps the pandemic that hit us hard, has allowed an intellectual awareness among our decision makers, but this unfortunately does not yet translate into reality as shown here two decisions that I find emblematic of French malaise and European: the European Commission which recommends as secure messaging, the American messaging Signal! While there are French solutions like Olvid … And the second not very glorious example is that of the Microsoft cloud for the health data platform, while there are sovereign and certified solutions for health data like OVH  or Outscale

Why sovereignty is an important concept?

If the reading of the previous paragraph has not started to make you aware of the interest of taking back the digital destiny of Europe in hand, here are some explicit elements.
The possibility of mastering our data first of all for economic reasons. As previously seen, what has enabled GAFAM to enrich itself to the point of being more powerful than certain states in the world, is the fact that we have “freely” given them access to our data and usage rights. in exchange for free services offered. These data, which relate to your shopping habits, your health, your exercise habits or not, your trips, your photos, etc. are all a source of interest for various players in marketing, commerce, and health. They are also used for the rather American security forces where they can be exploited in terms of espionage in order to favor American geopolitical or economic interests.
And letting them alone benefit from the windfall that represents the exploitation of this data is, for example, to give them the means to buy any European digital enterprise that has the time to overshadow them …

The other key point is legislation, at the risk of repeating myself, the Cloud Act and the Patriot Act, providing the ability to enforce the extraterritoriality of its legislation. This impacts our ability to forge diplomatic ties with countries that may be in the crosshairs of the US and whatever our interests are and enables them to impact the markets with which we may do business. Proof of this is the various fines imposed on European companies (still more heavily sanctioned than American companies) in cases of circumvention of the embargo …
If we take the Chinese competitors of GAFAMS, the situation is unfortunately not better or worse. Indeed, the Chinese regime is a dictatorial regime, which has no taste for individual freedoms or contestation within its borders, but also outside… Choosing a Chinese application like TikTok means providing sources phenomenal images to the Chinese state which will be free to create gigantic databases of photos of the world population, and when we see the use made of video surveillance and AI to control the Chinese population, there is something to worry about.

In conclusion

Let’s stop being naive, if the globalization of the markets gave us the impression that the world was a big village, each player on the world geopolitical chessboard plays its partition, those of the US is not that of the Chinese, nor those Russians, and they should not be that of Europe, whether in terms of defense or digital.
For digital, you have to realize that free does not really exist, and that you have to agree to pay the right price for the desired service. It should be remembered that what is available to us for our use is the result of the work and creativity of engineers or inventors, and that it is right that they derive a fair remuneration from it, otherwise it will be by the exploitation of your data collected during the use of these different tools.
Once again, it is up to us, as consumers, to make our choices consciously. Let’s mobilize!

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