(Danish Foreign Affairs Minister Anders Samuelsen, L, and British Foreign Affairs Minister Boris Johnson, R.) Denmark recently announced the creation of a ‘digital minister’ to maintain a favorable relationship with tech companies.
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As technology companies continue to demonstrate their political influence, a number of European governments are appointing their own ‘tech ambassadors,’ whose job it is to maintain favorable relationships with businesses such as Apple, Facebook and Google.
Last month, Denmark announced the creation of a so-called ‘digital minister’ to serve alongside Danish diplomats. The position has yet to be filled, though insiders say the person will be tasked with maintaining a good relationship with large, foreign companies, discussing hot-button issues such as data security and customer privacy.
“Just as we engage in a diplomatic dialogue with countries, we also need to establish and prioritize comprehensive relations with tech actors, such as Google, Facebook, Apple and so on,” explains Denmark Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen, in an interview with the Washington Post. “The idea is, we see a lot of companies and new technologies that will in many ways involve and be part of everyday life of citizens in Denmark. And some also have a size that is comparable to nations.”
To his point, consider that Apple booked nearly $234 billion in 2015 fiscal year revenues–or roughly the size of Finland’s economy, according to World Bank data.
Digital Ambassadors Abroad
Although the Danish Foreign Ministry claims that this is the first true ‘digital minister’ in the world, a number of foreign governments have created similar roles. In the U.K., Matt Hancock serves as minister of state for digital and culture, overseeing cyber-security and digital markets, among other things. Back in 2014, France appointed Axelle Lemaire to the post of ‘digital minister,’ where she’s now pushing for more companies to startup locally. (Lemaire recently oversaw the creation of a special Tech Visa for bringing foreign investors and entrepreneurs to French soil. Her job, translated from her LinkedIn profile, is to ensure that “technology serves innovation, job creation and growth, while respecting users’ private lives.”)
Meanwhile, Poland’s digital economy minister, Anna Strezynska, recently accused Facebook of censorship, after the social network suspended some Polish users’ profiles for using a little-known far-right symbol, the Falanga. The Polish Ministry of Digital Affairs, founded in 2015, says it’s responsible for developing broadband infrastructure and supporting the creation of web content.
Yet Denmark’s position may well be unique, inasmuch as American tech companies are taking more notice of the nation’s business ecosystem. Just last month, Facebook said that it would build a 600,000 square-foot data center in the Danish town of Odense, and last year, Apple announced that it would invest 1.7 billion euros ($1.8 billion) in new data centers in Denmark and Ireland.
Although the U.S. does not have a designated digital minister at present, some have pointed out that Peter Thiel effectively serves this role. The billionaire venture capitalist and co-founder of PayPal is a top advisor to President Trump–having been a vocal, if lone Trump supporter in Silicon Valley during the 2016 election–and he’s a member of the President’s transition team. In December, Thiel helped to broker a meeting between Trump and roughly a dozen tech executives, and has been responsible for crafting technology-centered government policy, according to a Wall Street Journal report.