Europe hates U.S. tech giants, loves their services
Across Europe, love — or at least acceptance — often wins out in their love-hate relationship with U.S. tech companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google.
The New York Times
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 read next. But his visits, he says, are also a protest against the growing power of Amazon. He is bothered by the way the U.S. online retailer treats its warehouse employees.
Still, as with millions of other Europeans, there is a limit to his will protest.
“It depends on the price,” said Rosquin, 49, who acknowledged he planned to buy a $400 BlackBerry smartphone on Amazon because the handset was not yet available on rival French websites. “If you can get something for half-price at Amazon, you may put your issues with their working conditions aside.”
Across Europe, love — or at least acceptance — often wins out in the love-hate relationship with U.S. tech companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google.
Despite their often vocal criticism of these behemoths, Europeans are some of the most active and loyal users of U.S. social networks, search engines and e-commerce websites. 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 U.S. market stands at roughly 65 percent.
Facebook — the target of several government investigations for its tax practices in Europe — also has more than doubled its number of European users, to more than 150 million, in the last five years, and the social network’s European user numbers now outpace U.S. figures, according to the social media research company eMarketer.
U.S. tech companies operate seven of the 10 most visited websites in Europe, according to comScore statistics. Only Yandex and Mail.ru, a Russian search engine and an email 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 American tech companies, particularly about the use and sharing of data. It also leaves them wondering why so few European tech companies are globally competitive.
For many Europeans, the likes of Twitter and Amazon hold too much information about what people do online. That wariness has only grown stronger after the revelations by Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, about U.S. intelligence agencies’ spying activities and perceived 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 European Union, is finishing new rules — tougher than those in the United States — intended to strengthen the region’s privacy protections for online data.
But leave the clutches of the services they deride? No.
For Stuart Turnbull, 42, a writer who lives two hours north of Edinburgh, Scotland, a reliance on U.S. tech companies has become the cost of doing business.
Turnbull once tried to shut down his Facebook account after realizing that he was spending too much time sharing posts and comments. Yet as he looked to build contacts with other writers and editors around the world, Turnbull, who works from home, soon changed his mind. He even opened a second Facebook account dedicated to his literary career.
While he remains concerned about how tech companies use his online data, the ability to tap into the global networks offered by the likes of Facebook and Twitter is too enticing a prospect to turn down.
“I accept that my data may be mined,” said Turnbull, who says he is more worried about companies potentially abusing his information than about governments accessing his online data. “It’s the price you pay for using these so-called free services.”
After Facebook’s purchase of the messaging service WhatsApp, rumors abounded that European users of the messaging service would flee, fearing that Facebook would gain access to their personal information despite Facebook saying it would keep WhatsApp user data separate.
Yet six months after the deal, WhatsApp says its user numbers have increased to half a billion — many of them Europeans.
Among them is Lara Goldsworthy, 31, a marketing manager from Hamburg, Germany.
“WhatsApp would have been the first service that I would have left, but I didn’t,” said Goldsworthy, who added that many of her German friends took to Facebook to complain about the social network’s acquisition of the messaging service.
“I realized,” she said, “that I had given up my privacy a long time ago.”