Digital corporations like Facebook are masters at avoiding taxes. Their wealth of data invites abuse and creates monopolies. The EU must intervene.
Commentary by Helmut Martin-Jung
It is quite possible that Mark Zuckerberg, in his early years as CEO, imagined what it would be like to dominate the world. Now that his company conglomerate of Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp is as close to this goal as the tricky world situation allows, he has to learn: With a lot of market power comes a lot of responsibility. After all, the Facebook group is not a manufacturer of toothbrushes or television sets. He is – even if the responsible people deny it for understandable reasons – a media group that has a great influence on world events.
Facebook – and many other companies from the USA – like to proceed according to the motto: “Let's get started first, if there are problems, we'll take care of it.” This is important in order to reach a critical mass in the fast-moving digital age. But there are also problems. And Facebook is not one of the first to come to mind when it comes to tackling it seriously.
That the Facebook boss is a Tax reform welcomed is more calculation than insight
The Zuckerberg method is more like giving in only as little as possible. Social networks are designed to make users addicted to likes? Serious news tend to get lost in the flow of vanities, lies and trivialities? Are social networks still platforms on which falsehoods are spread, information bubbles form? All right. But because Mark Zuckerberg doesn't want to harm himself, he'll stick to it as far as possible. Because that was exactly the factor that led to the success of his services. They run the advertising business, of which Facebook lives almost a hundred percent.
Meanwhile, the young billionaire who has become a stimulus figure is also struggling with the rather bad reputation of his life's work. So he tries to act preventively. Regulation? Yes, please, announces his top communicator Nick Clegg. And now: pay more taxes? Yes gladly. The OECD's initiative on this is welcome, Zuckerberg says. As if he didn't know how slowly the mills of international committees grind and how little comes out in the end. That takes time. And if one can avoid individual solutions that would be complicated and probably more expensive for Facebook, this will save him billions. Incidentally, this also applies to a large number of other corporations, which like Facebook have perfected to minimize their tax burden by all sorts of tricks.
They do not participate only too little in the communities in which they earn their money. The digital corporations are also accumulating an equally valuable asset: data. A Stasi with such a tool is an extremely depressing dystopian idea, but by no means unreal. The power of data collectors must also be condemned from an economic perspective. On this basis, extremely lucrative business models can be set up, from which competitors are virtually excluded due to a lack of data. Shopping is too late, you have to focus on Europe's strengths and digitize manufacturing. There is something true. But it is also necessary to slow down the data monopolists. Why can't messenger services like Whatsapp work across apps? And it would be a first step to at least partially make the corporation's data – of course reliably anonymized – accessible to the general public.