Tide Is Turning On Tech Giants Having Their Cake And Eating It

Are the tech giants in the process of being held to account? Or is it at least in the post? It's a fascinating question, because there isn't a simple answer and the suspicion that they just might be requires piecing together different news threads.

The most obvious place to start is Google, which has a who's who list of digital advertisers currently boycotting the platform over brand safety fears. It has been offering lots of calming words over improved procedures and in separate news, it has even stopped giving itself the last look at programmatic auctions that offered it the last bid. Nevertheless, scientists are agreed that its system for detecting hate and extremist videos is easily fooled

The issue is so massive because The Times investigation into brands accidentally funding extremists by advertising against their hate videos on YouTube broke just before the London attack. It's so big that even when Theresa May was on her PM duties abroad this week, the subject kept cropping up. 

German authorities have gone so far as to pass a new law through which the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter will be fined 50m Euros if they do not remove hate speech or fake news from their services within 24 hours. We're talking about words in the UK at the moment -- it's a softly, softly approach -- but it's not unimaginable that fines could be raised here too if the sites don't tackle extremist content more urgently.

All this, and of course, Google still has a eye-wateringly huge fine in the post from the EU for its anticompetitive behaviour, such as prioritising its own companies in search and its own apps within Android.

It's effectively the Microsoft antitrust case all over again with a longer rap sheet. The fine has not been levied yet, but trust me, it's on its way -- and it's going to be huge.

Then we have the gig economy guys, Uber and Deliveroo, with Amazon thrown in for good measure. All have received a roasting from MPs over unfair contracts that strip staff of their employment rights under the guise of flexibility and providing a "gig" rather than a job. However, the MPs have accused the companies of hoodwinking people into a contract that only suits the employer -- if you can call someone an employer if they are claiming not be employing you. The MPs went as far as saying that, in particular, the Uber contract is just "gibberish."

This comes hot on the heels of Uber failing in its challenge to the Mayor of London's ruling that cab drivers must pass an English test. 

As a small aside, my eye has also been caught this week by Spotify being given the shocking news that Universal does not want it to stream albums to non subscribers the moment they are released. In a move that makes you wonder why it isn't the norm, the music label has pretty much told Spotify that giving away its music for free from day one of a release was rather eating into sales -- just a tad.

So perhaps the streaming giant might find its wings are further clipped by record labels wanting to go back to the days of selling records as well as having someone else make money from streaming them.

As I say, these are all separate actions, but the direction of travel is that tech giants can't have their cake and eat it too. You can't have a massive pool of user-generated video and then expect to not be held responsible for what you allow to run and what is advertised again. You can't claim that hateful and extremist content can't be taken down in a timely fashion when I rather suspect a 50m Euro fine from Berlin might just prove that it's possible to find a way. 

And you can't run a multibillion-dollar company that owns no assets, other than its own app, and employs no people. You can't expect an army of people to go to work for you with a contract that favours you by guaranteeing them virtually nothing in return for access to an app offering suppliers a "gig" rather than a job.

It has taken a long time, but the tide is turning -- and I can absolutely guarantee you that three things will happen this year.

A Deliveroo or Uber driver will launch legal action for sick pay or some other right their contract denies, and in so doing, prove that they are actually employed, regardless of what the contract says.

I can guarantee that the government will turn rhetoric on taking down extremism to an arrangement where fines are levied, and I can guarantee Google's eyes will pop out when it sees how many zeros are on the fine that Brussels will levy against it.

The tide is turning, ever so slightly -- but it is turning.

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