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New Technology in Europe

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Last week the New York Times ran an article, “Building the Next Facebook a Tough Task in Europe“, by Eric Pfanner, discussing the lack of major high tech innovation in Europe. Eric Pfanner discusses the importance of such investment, and then speculates on the reason for the lack of such innovation. The ultimate conclusion is that there is a lack of venture capital in Europe for various cultural and historical reasons. This explanation of course makes no sense. Capital is geographically mobile and if European tech start ups were a profitable investment that Europeans were afraid to bankroll, American investors would be on the next plane.

Here is a better explanation. In the name of “privacy,” the EU greatly restricts the use of consumer online information. Josh Lerner has a recent paper, “The Impact of Privacy Policy Changes on Venture Capital Investment in Online Advertising Companies” (based in part on the work of Avi Goldfarb and Catherine E. Tucker, “Privacy Regulation and Online Advertising“) finding that this restriction on the use of information is a large part of the explanation for the lack of tech investment in Europe. Tom Lenard and I have written extensively about the costs of privacy regulation (for example, here) and this is just another example of these costs, although the costs are much greater in Europe than they are here (so far.)