No More Mr Nice Guy -- UK Plans To Regulate Tech Giants

Recent British developments and speeches regarding regulation of the internet and the US tech giants are beginning to make a lot more sense now. They were paving the way for today's news that the government is working on plans for an internet regulator, and possibly also an online regulator for internet advertising.

The story was broken by BuzzFeed, which has seen the proposals that are expected to be announced over the next few months.

The key takeaway is that an internet regulator will be set up to do for the internet what Ofcom does for broadcasting. This could well explain why Sharon White, the head of Ofcom, took to the podium at the Royal Television Society this week to argue that the internet needed to be regulated like broadcasting is.

Was she making a general point? Or was she perhaps suggesting that regulating the internet was in Ofcom's backyard and it should take on the widened role?

There is the addition of the Home Secretary and Culture Secretary working on plans to set a time limit by which sites will have to take down extremist material or face a fine. 

BuzzFeed makes the point that although this may come as a surprise to some, an internet regulator was promised in the Conservative manifesto during the 2017 election.

Regular MAD London readers will know I flagged this up at the time. The that just about won the election, with the support of the DUP, had said all along it felt that set standards needed to be in place for the internet and therefore a body to oversee them.

The proposed new regulator would be able to force internet companies to take down not just extremism, but also hate speech, child abuse, trolling and illegally copied content. 

There is the potential for the regulator to have another role -- or perhaps for a second regulator to be set up, to act as a watchdog over internet advertising, specifically around enforcing laws on advertising junk food and drinks to children. This is currently carried out by the ASA, which only this week banned a selection of Kinder websites for promoting unhealthy food to children online. 

For all of this to happen, a new code of practice will need to be devised and signed up to by internet companies that want to do business in the UK. 

This comes at a time of regulation being potentially increased across the EU -- which, of course, the UK is due to leave next spring. Facebook and Twitter have been warned by the European Commission they have until the end of the year to get their T&Cs on data usage clearer. The executive arm of the EU also has its sights set on an investigation into Amazon's use of third-party data.

The upshot? The EU is getting tough on the tech giants so the fear in the UK that regulation here will just drive the big names to set up shop elsewhere is unfounded. There is no easier place for the tech giants to set up in and still be in the EU, or least geographic Europe.

The days of light-touch regulation are coming to an end, and soon enough the authorities will not be relying on cooperation from the tech giants or listening to excuses about workloads over why content was not taken down. Instead, they will be pointing to legal clauses and handing out fines. 

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