Tech Giants To UK Govt -- Please Don't Make Us Publishers

Was it a coincidence that news broke today of the tech giants agreeing that regulation is needed just a week or two ahead of the Government publishing a white paper on how it believes the internet should be regulated?

Industry giants, such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have had years to come up with ways to provide safer environments, and it is only now -- just as the Government is about to push ahead with a debate on regulating the internet -- that these giants see fit to come up with a plan.

The BBC has gained a copy of a letter from the Internet Association in which the tech giants set out some debating points they believe should scope the future of regulation. 

To be honest, the points they raise are mostly sensible. There needs to be a distinction between private and public comments, and regulation has to be technologically possible and laid out clearly so everyone understands the system.

Some of the points seem a little nitpicky to me. They want a distinction between illegal and harmful content. I'm sure most people would say both are bad and should be removed, so why distinguish? They also want flexibility to new technologies. I'd probably argue that those new technologies should be made to be compliant with the law, rather than the other way around.

The major point is over third-party liability. Put very simply, the tech giants are saying they do not want to be considered publishers and thus liable for the information that appears on their sites.  

Again, it is an understandable and valid point. Checking every post before it goes up would lead to unmanageable delay, which would see platforms grind to a halt. Having said that, one has to wonder whether the AI smart technology they talk about separately as being able to pick up harmful content could not be used to check content before it goes up.

Effectively, the letter is saying that the tech giants are now holding up their hands and admitting they know they need to be perform better, but please don't make them publishers and hold them responsible for what appears on their sites.

My take? There are some interesting points raised by the letter. It's a little surprising to see them raised just a week or two before the Government lays out its potential plans. It's almost as if the tech giants want to get their first tackle in first, as a sports commentator might say. Usually, industries respond to a white paper -- they don't try to change a government's thinking at the eleventh hour of a white paper being produced.

Clearly the tech giants have sat on their hands for a long time, and now realise the game is up. They are trying to make a last-minute plea to have regulation on their terms.

My prediction? Look to Germany. There they have a system whereby companies can receive massive fines for not taking down material within an agreed time frame. If they are warned about content and it stays up, they can expect a fine. If they act on information and take the content down, no further action is required. 

Governments typically look to other countries when seeing what has proven to work, and Germany is usually held up in Europe as the regulatory system that has managed to put an iron fist inside a velvet glove.

As for making the tech giants publishers, I really don't think that's going to happen -- but like in Germany, they will be held responsible once their attention has been drawn to harmful content. 

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