Over the past 20 years, tech giants have risen to become the biggest companies in the world, without formal and structured government oversight. The big tech companies have maintained that digital technology would be hampered by public interest regulation. The downside of big tech’s systematic resistance to regulatory oversight is now evident:
Consumers themselves are responsible for their own protection
Subscription of digital services requires collection of personal information
Disclosure of what is being done with the private information of individuals is non-existent, inadequate, or deceptive.
Customer’s private information is considered a corporate asset to be traded and sold
London was ground zero for one of the worst big tech abuses of power, the Cambridge Analytica / Facebook scandal. This scandal has been one of many that illustrate that privacy is also about the autonomy, dignity, and self-determination of people — and a necessary precondition for democracy. The scandal demonstrated that people deeply care about violations of their privacy and the cavalier use of power.
Instead of regulation, some governments have allowed tech companies to draft their internal codes of conduct, while courting them to build headquarters and facilities in their jurisdictions. The job of any government is to protect its citizens from harm. Regulators ensure companies are compliant with law and regulations. Regulators also provide information to consumers to protect them from improper practices.
The UK has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead the world in the ethical use of technology. An article by Lisa Quest and Anthony Carrie of Oliver Wyman that appeared in BRINK News on September 16, 2019 summarised the opportunity:
“With the establishment of a smart tech regulator, the UK can become a world leader in fostering digital innovation while holding tech firms and their executives accountable for abuse of their inventions.”
We are at an historical moment. The realization that the complete absence of rules is not in the best interest of the tech giants has caused them to reconsider their position. As these companies have abandoned the mantra regulation hurts innovation, the opportunity arises to explore meaningful regulation. The UK can lead the world to greatly improved relations between tech giants and consumers.