Emmanuel Macron has warned that Facebook and Google are “too big to be governed” and that they may face being broken up.
The French president welcomed the contribution played by such companies in France, saying they created employment and are “part of our ecosystem”.
But he warned over their size and influence, telling Wired magazine: “They have a very classical issue in a monopoly situation; they are huge players. At a point of time – but I think it will be a US problem, not a European problem – at a point of time, your government, your people, may say, ‘Wake up. They are too big.’
“Not just too big to fail, but too big to be governed. Which is brand new.
“So at this point, you may choose to dismantle. That’s what happened at the very beginning of the oil sector when you had these big giants. That’s a competition issue.”
Mr Macron's comments are the latest in a string of attacks from leaders in the Western world about the growing dominance of internet giants. Politicians and CEOs on both sides of the Atlantic have called for more regulation of Facebook following the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, and US president Donald Trump also launched a Twitter tirade against online retailer Amazon in the past week.
Mr Macron indicated that he felt the big American tech monopolies needed to cough up more in taxes in European nations.
“Today the GAFA [Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon] don’t pay all the taxes they should in Europe. So they don’t contribute to dealing with negative externalities they create,” he said.
“And they ask the sectors they disrupt to pay, because these guys, the old sectors pay VAT, corporate taxes and so on. That’s not sustainable.”
The French president made the remarks as he announced a new national strategy for artificial intelligence in France, which will involve a €1.5 billion investment over the course of his term to support startups and research in the field.
Since his election last year, Mr Macron has moved to rebrand France as “business friendly” and has launched a charm offensive to win investment from London in the wake of Brexit. His latest comments about US tech giants could cast those efforts into doubt, but he insisted that France could still be a leader in technology and AI.
“I think artificial intelligence will disrupt all the different business models and it’s the next disruption to come. So I want to be part of it,” he said.
“So that’s why my first objective in terms of education, training, research, and the creation of startups is to streamline a lot of things, to have the adaptable systems, the adapted financing, the adapted regulations, in order to build champions here and to attract the existing champions.”
But he was adamant that new technology needs to be regulated and that privacy issues could no longer go unchecked.
“The day you start dealing with privacy issues, the day you open this data and unveil personal information, you open a Pandora’s box,” he warned.
“The day we start to make such business out of this data is when a huge opportunity becomes a huge risk. It could totally dismantle our national cohesion and the way we live together,” he continued.
“This leads me to the conclusion that this huge technological revolution is in fact a political revolution.”