2020 was the year the “techlash” — a rebellion against the perceived excesses of Silicon Valley — morphed into a much bigger conversation about tech’s role in society.
It was the Zoom call that kept office workers plugged in through the pandemic. It was the video chat with an isolated loved one. It was the online crucible for conspiracy and outrage. And, for many platform workers, it was the computerized supervisor measuring productivity on an ever-growing list of food and delivery orders.
In short, tech was everywhere.
POLITICO’s Tech 28 ranking reflects this ubiquity, and tech’s expanded role in society. This is not a list of the hottest startup founders — though some are included. It is not a ranking of tech regulators, though you’ll find those on the list as well. It is a list of people from all walks of life who, via their advocacy or innovation or sharp-elbowed politicking, will be doing the most to determine what role technology plays in our lives in the coming year.
Some are household names — if you come from a geeky household. Some of our other selectees, you may never have heard of. Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar are the pair behind a major lawsuit against Uber in London that resulted in drivers being granted minimum pay and various other benefits. Cori Crider is the cofounder of Foxglove, a tech advocacy group that has taken the lead on some of the biggest privacy cases in the U.K. Jane Horvath is Apple’s chief privacy officer, a key force behind the tech juggernaut’s shift to a privacy-focused sales pitch. Frenchman Pierre Louette is the chairman and CEO of the Les Echos-Le Parisien media group, leading negotiations with Facebook and Google over licensing fees to make big tech platforms pay for news.
What they have in common is the outsize influence they are having.
To be clear, Tech 28 is not a popularity ranking or an honor roll for do-gooders. Dmitry Badin, a shadowy Russian hacker who made the list, is suspected of being behind the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee in the United States, as well as a major hack of Germany’s Bundestag. It’s also not about who has the most raw power: Those heavyweights are well known and in the news on most days. Instead, POLITICO’s ranking puts a spotlight on the people who are exerting the most influence in their respective fields, often from behind the scenes, without any moral judgment.
How did we pick them? While the process isn’t scientific, it draws on the expertise, knowledge and reporting of POLITICO’s expert policy journalists who are based in countries all across Europe. Over multiple rounds of discussion, we grouped dozens of names into three categories: Rulebreakers, Rulemakers and Visionaries. We invite you to consider these categories as broadly as we did: Rulebreakers are challenging the status quo. Rulemakers are shaping it. Visionaries are inventing entirely new ways to think about tech’s role in society.
We then challenged and tested each candidate against two key criteria: How much impact did they have on the tech conversation in the past year? How much are they likely to have in the coming year? We believe the final list reflects the distribution of power in the European tech scenes and casts an illuminating light on the sector’s key characters. You’ll notice we gave each selectee a “superpower” and also attributed each of them scores for Power, Vision and Reach. These scores aim to demonstrate how influence can be wielded in different ways. While a European commissioner may have more raw power than an Uber driver, the latter may score higher in the Vision and Reach departments.
We hope you’ll enjoy reading this list as much as we enjoyed compiling it, and we look forward to hearing what you think.
Read POLITICO’s Tech 28 list.