The Atlantic

‘A Convenient Life and a Good Life May Not Be the Same Thing’

Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s top antitrust regulator, hasn’t been able to take down Big Tech—but she has a theory of how to tame it.
Source: Francois Lenoir / Reuters

The election of Donald Trump, and the Cambridge Analytica scandal that followed, set in motion what some have called the tech-lash—a bout of intense skepticism directed toward Silicon Valley. But long before it became fashionable to jeer Mark Zuckerberg, there was the Danish regulator, Margrethe Vestager. As the European commissioner of competition, a post she has held since 2014, she has fined Google billions for its bullying behavior toward rivals. Her investigations have shut down tax-avoidance schemes deployed by the likes of Apple and Amazon—and forced those companies to pay massive sums. Vestager is arguably the most important technocrat of the century.

This October she will leave her post—and there’s been talk of her ascending to an even more powerful position within European politics. But even Vestager concedes that her work has done little to diminish the power of Big Tech. Despite her efforts, 19 out of 20 European search-engine queries are still typed into Google. Based on her long experience tussling with these corporations, though, she has acquired a strong theory of how they can be tamed.

Vestager is a figure of media fascination. She inspired the Danish television show Borgen. In interviews, she often knits while fielding questions with wry wit. Last week she visited Washington, and we spent an hour talking in her hotel suite. Her knitting needle didn’t make an appearance. We discussed the power of Big Tech, the future of capitalism, and the perils facing the European Union. I condensed our conversation and edited it for clarity.


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