Coal, gas and oil powered the industrial revolution, but in the digital era, data is replacing fossil fuels as the most valuable resource on Earth, and the ability to collect and interrogate it has created organisations with a power that can at times seem beyond the control of nation states. Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google represent, in the words of Germany's economy minister Sigmar Gabriel, "brutal information capitalism", and Europe must act now to protect itself.
"Either we defend our freedom and change our policies, or we become digitally hypnotised subjects of a digital rulership," Gabriel warned in a passionate call to action published by the Frankfurter Allgemeine. "It is the future of democracy in the digital age, and nothing less, that is at stake here, and with it, the freedom, emancipation, participation and self-determination of 500 million people in Europe."
In France, economy minister Arnaud Montebourg believes Europe risks becoming a "digital colony of the global internet giants", and ministers have called for Google to contribute to the cost of upgrading the country's broadband infrastructure. Gabriel says Germany's cartel office is currently examining whether Google should be regulated as a utility, like a telecoms supplier – the group has 91.2% market share of search in Germany.