Tech trends: Politics likely to dominate European tech in 2019

Tech trends: Politics likely to dominate European tech in 2019

Tempting though it is, I'll resist the urge to simply write 'GDPR' 700 times for this article. Even so, it's hard to overestimate just how much of an influence the General Data Protection Regulation has had, and continues to have, on Europe's technology sector. The public may see little more than ambiguously-worded T&Cs above large 'Accept' buttons (still illegal under the new law) but behind the scenes, GDPR has changed the landscape forever.

Lawsuits are piling up, protagonists queuing to have their say about X, Y or Z company and how their personally identifiable information has been stolen, compromised or used without permission. Like an oil tanker slowly beginning to turn, IT as a whole will continue to submit in 2019, as European companies kneel in the face of the new regs and US ones either capitulate or simply pull out of the European market altogether. We might even see a high-profile show-trial pour encourager les autres, to show that the bill means business.

Technology feeds into global politics and is also shaped by it. Individuals aren't alone in the realization that technology isn't always a force for good. Whole cities can and do reach similar conclusions: witness Airbnb's wings being clipped in tourism hot-spots, and Uber being challenged in similar ways. To misquote William F. Buckley Jr., being 'disruptive' in a VC pitch presentation is fine, but when it meets reality the costs can become prohibitive. Expect similar action in 2019 from legislators and prosecutors who have found that they do, after all, have teeth. This may increasingly be driven from the ground up, by constituents who have joined the dots and don't like the resulting picture.

On a more positive note for tech firms in Europe, the hubs here are likely to continue to grow, whether London, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam and other challengers such as Dublin, Stockholm and Lisbon. Despite Europe's own economic headwinds (it's not immune to US tariffs and the inexorable winding in of cheap finance), established firms look likely to continue to expand - just perhaps at a slower rate.

Consolidation seems likely in 2019, not out of greed but necessity. The big boom may not be over, but real-world events have taken some of the wind out of the sails of the global economic engine. Some tech firms may have to hunker down for a while, and/or merge with others to ride out the next few years.

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Alex Cruickshank

Alex Cruickshank has been writing about technology and business since 1994. He has lived in various far-flung places around the world and is now based in Berlin.  

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