France may protect citizens' liberté with ban on foreigners buying local big data firms

AI and other tech could go on 'not to be acquired' list

France is considering regulating foreign takeovers of businesses in the data protection and artificial intelligence sectors, minister for the economy Bruno Le Maire said on Friday.

Le Maire made the comments while touring China with French president Emmanuel Macron.

The investment restrictions would be added to the Montebourg decree that already regulates foreign takeovers of firms in the energy supply, water, transport, telecoms and public health sectors.

Speaking to French television station BFM (video here in French), Le Maire said Chinese investment is welcomed, but not if it “plunders” French technology.

Bloomberg reported Le Maire as saying: “If investors come to France or Europe only to gain access to the best technology without benefiting France or any other European country then they are not welcome”, adding that “Europe has the means to protect itself”.

Adding data protection and AI to the decree wouldn't block foreign investment, but would make it subject to government approval.

In picking out those two sectors, Le Maire said “I‘m thinking of everything dealing with personal data. Do we really want investors to market our data? I‘m thinking about artificial intelligence, a very sensitive sector that we want more investment in.”

President Macron's visit was focussed on rebalancing French-Chinese trade, to address a €30 billion trade deficit with The Middle Kingdom. ®

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