The dot-com bubble. It’s hard to put into words how crazy, outlandish, extravagant, and optimistic the dot com bubble was. When I landed in the middle of it as a Microsoft intern in the mid-90s, the first company party I went to — Microsoft rented out a mountain. It felt like everyone I met was a millionaire, planning retirement at age 30. Really. But however crazy things were in Silicon Valley and Seattle at the time…. things were way more crazy in Ireland.
Thanks to dot-com mania, this tiny island nation – long impoverished by centuries of conflict – was now one of the fastest growing economy in the world. They called it the Celtic Tiger. As a cub tech reporter in 1999, I landed a plumb assignment to spend a few weeks in Ireland writing about this Celtic Tiger. For a man born of the Sullivan and McFadden clans, this was truly the opportunity of a lifetime. And it was obvious right away – whether I talked to a call center manager or a cab driver – Ireland was dot-com-crazy. By the time I boarded a train into Dublin, I was drunk on Irish charm and optimism, let along pints of Guinness. And as I looked at the window, I was overwhelmed by brand
name tech plants and offices I saw everywhere — Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Dell, Cisco. Things were so good that former immigrants — and people whose ancestors had braved the dangerous trip across the Atlantic to escape the Great Famine — were moving BACK to Ireland to get rich.
Ireland and her people owe technology companies a great deal. And some worry, Big Tech is now calling in that debt.
Storm clouds are gathering around the technology industry, and few would argue an epic battle is coming. Some call it the techlash. Big Tech is accused of running our lives, through surveillance and manipulation … accused of censorship, accused of harming children, accused of threatening democracy. Mainly, it is accused of doing whatever the hell it wants, with companies so rich and so powerful that they seemingly don’t have to answer to anyone.
Who has been drafted to fight the first battle in this war for control of the 21 Century? To make the first stand? Ireland. By a twist of fate worthy of a great Irish novel, Ireland’s good fortune as a tech company darling now has cast it as a David supposed to slay the tech Goliath or at least, get it back in line. The world’s first coordinated effort to put some real boundaries around tech firms is Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation – GDPR – And there’s some quirky things about the way it works.
Johnny Ryan: The GDPR provides that the country where you have your headquarters in Europe, that country is also where you will be supervised, so the Irish data protection commission has the responsibility for all of Europe to supervise Google. Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and so on.So quite a remarkable situation. Now that means that no other enforcer in Europe can intervene unless Ireland has first one its job.
But is Ireland really in a position to enforce regulations, or even pull away the welcome mat, for its golden goose, the very industry which gave it the Celtic Tiger? For that matter…can any country, any organization, let alone any individual, really stand up to Big Tech?
Welcome to the Ways and Means podcast brought to you by Duke University…I’m your host Bob Sullivan. For the next three episodes, we’re going to take a deep look into the coming battle over control of our digital future, and how we might make large technology platforms accountable for the things they do.
We begin with today’s episode: Too Big to Sue.