When Casper Klynge, the 45-year-old diplomat who was previously Denmark’s man in Jakarta, took up his role in summer 2017 as the world’s first ambassador to Silicon Valley, he was optimistic about a congenial diplomatic relationship with the region’s tech giants.
Since then, the world has changed. Millions have had their Facebook data harvested by Cambridge Analytica; social media has been used to power alleged state-sponsored meddling in elections in Europe; and fake news has had nation-shaping consequences. In response, the big tech firms have acted aloof about the problems their platforms have created. As a result, the softer edges of diplomacy have grown sharper.
“It’s about holding the tech industry more accountable in a way that is more proportional to the kind of influence they exercise,” he says of his role. “We need to have the tech industry assume a much greater responsibility. We need to have them working with governments in a way that benefits the tech industry and also benefits our ability to set the democratic boundaries for the technologies and the platforms they’re operating.”
Klynge’s job is to lobby the big tech firms on behalf of the Danish government, pressing them to act in ways they may not want. “If I got a dime every time somebody in Silicon Valley told me Europe is just out to get the Silicon Valley tech companies, I’d be a very rich man,” he says. But recent revelations have shifted views. While US lawmakers previously saw European actions to curb big tech’s power as too interventionist (Europe’s competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, has said she won’t demand Google be broken up – yet), they are now looking to Europe as a model for regulating tech firms.
But action needs to be taken quickly. Tech is advancing at an alarming rate. “We need to make sure governments will not be left out of the equation.”
“My big concern is that it doesn’t take too many cases like Facebook and Cambridge Analytica to influence the general perception of technology and digitalisation,” says Klynge. “These cases have a real impact” even in tech-friendly Denmark. Part of the responsibility for navigating that perception falls on Klynge’s shoulders, and those of his French counterpart David Martinon, who was placed in post in November 2017.
“There’ll be a need for more tech ambassadors,” he says. “We all need to work together.”
Lithuanians are celebrating the centenary of their nation’s signing of the Act of Independence in 1918 with a line-up of festivals, exhibitions and cultural events. There’s a worry, however, that outside the country the Baltic state is attracting little fanfare. The Brand Lithuania Unit at the Office of the Government was founded to oversee how the country presents its image abroad. Egle Kudzmaniene, a former journalist, heads the unit, leading a team of five.
Why was the Brand Lithuania Unit formed?
Lithuania has made a big jump since it declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1990 but not many people around the world are aware of its achievements. All the country’s institutions were involved in the promotion of Lithuania’s image but no-one was co-ordinating it. We are establishing a network to manage it. Our key partners are the ministries of economy, foreign affairs and culture.
What is the story behind Lithuania’s Lietuva 100 logo?
We wanted to create a single logo for the centenary of the restoration of Lithuania’s statehood in 2018. The logo was designed by New!, a Vilnius-based creative agency, as a gift for the country. All the institutions wanted to use it, as well as businesses. The logo will also appear on the back of the national football team’s shirts.
What are your team’s longer-term plans?
Over the next year, we’ll be co-ordinating the implementation of a new strategy – spanning culture, tourism, the economy and public diplomacy – that will be devised by external experts.