Publicis Groupe's Maurice Lévy calls for data tax on tech firms

Publicis Groupe chairman has called for a data tax on tech firms

Publicis Groupe chairman Maurice Lévy has called for internet users to be compensated for the use of their personal data by tech firms.

The French advertising titan suggested that some of “the fruits” generated by the use of personal data should be distributed to those who originated it. He said such a wealth distribution model would be a more effective intervention by the European Union than the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) introduced last year to improve online privacy.

“Personal data should belong to each and every consumer and every time that data is used I think the data agglomerator is going to be making a profit but should pay consumers in one way or another,” Lévy said today in Paris at an event discussing the future of Europe. “[Consumers] have to be paid and receive part of the revenue - then you would reshuffle the cards, you would change everything,” he said.

Speaking later, Lévy said: “It seems normal to me that those who are at the origin of wealth should be able to perceive the fruits of it. Just as it seems normal that the platforms who make the wealth possible, should be able to benefit from it too.”

Lévy also complained that European institutions had failed to create the necessary climate for digital startups to thrive. “The problem is not regulation, the problem start-ups are faced with is there’s no such thing as a European ecosystem.”

He said that in Silicon Valley, Boston and even “a small country like” Israel, universities, venture capitalists and other investment funds were coming forward to support entrepreneurs “who want to change the world and actually do change it”.

But he said that even after discussions with senior French politicians including President Emmanuel Macron and former President François Hollande, he had been unable to progress with plans for improving Europe’s digital infrastructure. “The real problem is a cultural problem,” he said. “We still are behind our borders [of] 28 different countries with our respective languages and educational systems and banks working on a local basis and national funds.”

The chairman of the Publicis Groupe supervisory board was speaking ahead of the European elections at an event organised by broadcast media company Euronews. Titled “Popular Europe or Populist Europe?”, it examined the impact of the rise of populism on European business and society.

Lévy said that he was concerned by the rise of populist politicians but acknowledged that Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House had not harmed the US economy. “We have to admit he had a very positive impact on business.” He speculated that “there will be more populists in the European Parliament” after the 23 May vote but said their impact would be limited because of the defined role of the institution.

He argued that social networks have played a significant part in the growth of populist agendas and that those platforms must be held to account for their actions. “Nowadays people value much more what is said by their peers than by people who have researched information and that’s why it is extremely dangerous and we have to make those companies feel more responsible.”

Lévy is a former long-serving chief executive of Publicis, the world’s third-largest advertising and communications group. He also launched the annual Viva Technology conference, which opens in Paris on Thursday.

Ian Burrell's column, The News Business, is published on The Drum each Thursday. Follow Ian on Twitter @iburrell

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