After claiming that the continent’s increasing data regulations are due to jealousy of Silicon Valley’s tech giants, the European startup ecosystem is rushing to prove Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel wrong
Peter Thiel is no stranger to courting controversy. From being one of the few high-ranking Silicon Valley profiles to back Donald Trump to using his money and influence to take down Gawker, the Paypal co-founder and early Facebook investor certainly doesn’t shy away from ruffling a few feathers. So it’s not surprising that he’s now singlehandedly upset parts of the European tech ecosystem.
Speaking at the Economic Club in New York on Thursday, Thiel lashed out against the increased regulatory pressure tech companies face in Europe. For instance, Margrethe Vestager, the European competition commissioner, has over the past few years fined Alphabet for allegedly abusing its influence, taken Apple to court for €13bn worth of back taxes and accused Luxembourg of giving Amazon undue tax benefits worth roughly €250m. Moreover, the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will put extra pressure on how companies handle data.
However, while Thiel admitted that while there’s good reasons like privacy concerns for some of these regulations, he added that “the bad reasons are there are no successful tech companies in Europe and they are jealous of the US so they are punishing us.”
Although, not everyone agreed with him. “Peter Thiel’s comments can be quickly dismissed,” said Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates, the organisations promoting the tech industry in the UK capital and internationally. “The evidence speaks for itself. With Spotify set to IPO at $20bn, 57 tech companies valued at over $1bn, the world’s leading fintech capital and some of the world’s most exciting entrepreneurs currently working in technologies as diverse as artificial intelligence, cryptocurrencies and cybersecurity, Europe has plenty of successful tech companies.
“Research recently conducted by Startup Genome shows London as the third most active tech hub after Silicon Valley and New York. We have very little need for jealousy. Peter Thiel’s comments seem to come straight from the handbook of the president he so admires. Rather than trading insults, I would be delighted to welcome him to London to introduce him to the many tech entrepreneurs who feel openness and admiration for US tech companies and pride in their own achievements.”
Christer Holloman, CEO and co-founder of Divido, a fintech startup, also dismissed Thiel’s argument on the basis that his scope may be too narrow. “[Certain] companies aren’t defined as tech companies but use tech at the heart of their proposition,” Holloman said. “Just Eat, for example, may be seen as a food retailer but without the app and tech behind it, it wouldn’t have a business model.”
Others like John Shaw, vice president of product management at Sophos, the cybersecurity company, admitted that there may be something to the famous investor’s argument.“[The] biggest global tech companies that hold the largest amounts of consumer data are of course American. So while Thiel is guilty of hyperbole, his point that US companies might be disproportionately affected by European regulation is a valid one.”
That being said, John Shaw added: “[His] analysis that somehow the EU is motivated by jealousy simply does not stand up. European regulations seem pretty clearly to be motivated by consumer rights and individuals’ rights to privacy, which have long been given more importance in countries like the UK and Germany than they have in the US. Thiel [did say] ‘as a libertarian I always dislike regulation’ and it is that view that seems to motivate his antipathy to GDPR more than anything else."
Thiel is undoubtedly one of the most influential people in the world of technology but it seems European entrepreneurs want him to do a bit more research on the continent’s startups before making trumped-up claims.