The French Government announced in October that the National Assembly and Army Ministry would no longer be relying on American digital companies for Internet search. They are in future going to be using the French and German developed Quant search system which doesn’t track its users’ personal data and doesn’t therefore expose users to the misuse of personal data for advertising or propaganda purposes.
This announcement has made no waves here, but it could be the start of an Internet revolution. For the first time, an attempt is being made at a Government level, to wrest back some of the control that private American companies now have over our lives. As Florian Bachelier, chair of the Assembly’s Cybersecurity and Digital Sovereignty task-force put it: “Security and digital sovereignty are at stake here”. This is only a small step but, alongside a much fiercer attitude towards regulation, France has demonstrated that it is taking the need to reclaim “digital sovereignty” seriously. According to an article in Wired magazine the search for a European wide solution to American dominance of data is now well underway.
It is useful to see these moves in the context of previous European interventions in the development of media technologies. In 19th Century France the telegraph was developed with Government funding and nationalisation of the British telegraph was organised because the French system was much more efficient and provided equal access to all news organisations and customers. The development of radio as a consumer medium in Britain was dependent on money provided for ship to shore communication in the First World War. Public broadcasting was then established to ensure that these monopolistic services could not be used to provide a propaganda platform for any one individual or organisation – including the Government.
This history can be compared to the rather different way in which media has developed in the US where the rights to private ownership have always taken precedence over public rights, even when (as in the case of the Internet and World Wide Web), the basic technical infrastructure is built using public funds. As a result, a handful of oligopolies have controlled each generation of media technologies and used them to amass private fortunes. The speed of development of the FANGS (Facebook,