Google And Facebook Sign 'Magna Carta,' But Will They Do A King John?

It kind of makes sense now why Sir Tim Berners-Lee was saying recently that he felt it was very nearly time for the tech giants to be broken. They have been too powerful and too careless with the use of that power to be trusted. That was last week's clarion call for the creator of the World Wide Web.

Yesterday, however, the tone was a little more conciliatory. The accusations of misuse of power, through bending rules on data, were still there. But rather than call for their dismantling, Sir Tim launched what he dubs the "Magna Carta for the internet." The threat is clear. The tech giants can sign up and shape up, or they risk calls for their break up to become stronger. 

For those not familiar with the events of 1215, the Magna Carta is probably the most famous document in English history. It was used by the country's barons to bring King John to heel. He was accused of misusing his power (Google and Facebook may see the irony here) and so, following a rebellion, he promised to be better behaved.

The Magna Carta was an agreement that, among many things, assured all people the fair rule of law would apply. It didn't last. John signed to get the barons off his back, but then got it annulled by the Pope. The barons reciprocated by calling for the French to invade.

Fortunately, John died the next year and his son, Edward III, was too young to be king. So, the barons had a child they could control and convince to be more reasonable. The invasion was called off and things went back to normal for a while. Unfortunately, Edward turned out to be as bad as his father, and the barons waged a second war.

It will be interesting to see whether Google and Facebook will do the same. The Telegraph reveals they have signed up to the "Magna Carta for the internet," despite being highly critical of their misuse of personal data without the express, informed consent of users. 

The tech giants are facing a tough time. The Home Secretary has reportedly gone to the US to ask them what they are doing on child protection, with the warning they could face far stiffer regulation.

That is exactly what the ICO is calling for regarding Facebook, which it says needs to fundamentally change the way it handles data. Then there's the Digital Service Tax, or "tech tax," as it is becoming known as.

The tech giants must surely now be feeling the heat. The Chancellor has gone to the length of acting alone with a new tax, although he hopes other countries will follow, and the Home Secretary is arriving in the US to give social media platforms a grilling. All this is happening against the backdrop of the ICO saying Facebook needs reining in. 

So referring to the Magna Carta might seem apt for making overly powerful platforms sign up to promise to be more responsible.  It's perhaps more apt if one wonders whether the tech giants will follow King John's lead in signing an agreement to take the heat out of a situation before tearing it up at the first opportunity. 

It will be an interesting space to watch -- and the tech giants would do well to remember the barons stuck around for a second fight when the crown didn't stick to its promises. 

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