There have been several points in our recent history whereby a new innovation or technology has come hurtling towards us, but debate and regulation on these advances don’t come to fruition until they are engrained into our daily lives. One of the best examples of this is the motor car. By the turn of the 20th century, owning your own motor car, although a reserve of the wealthy, was not especially uncommon. It wasn’t until nearly two decades later that the first road sign came along and that serious conversations were being had about safety, necessity and regulation.
Technology is inside our lives. We depend on digital technology in virtually every arena of life, whether it be shopping, doing our jobs, navigation, entertainment, communication… technology plays a huge part. This puts a lot of power in the hands of those who own and develop the technology that is now so integral to our modern existence. Of course, regulation and debate have been part of this landscape for quite some time, so long in fact that we, the public, and the lawmakers, government organisations, are starting to fatigue. Technology has been moving so fast for so long, and the regulatory bodies have been trying to catch up before the next advance, that tech firms are, arguably, starting to break away.
Laws and regulation are key to the way society works and the tech giants that now hold so much power should be held within some kind of regulatory structure, but to what extent? How important is it to strap laws on to our technology? Should these big technology innovators be allowed to have the power that they currently seem to wield? Will over regulation stunt innovation and development? It’s a big subject, with many sides to it and many strong arguments to back them up. However, let us explore just a few of the ideas surrounding this, to help inform the arguments around this important global discussion.
GDPR and Trust
One of the largest, if not the largest concern around modern digital technology hinges around trust. Can we trust the internet and the people who hold the keys? The fear that many people have really stems from the fact that large companies are not generally perceived as entirely trustworthy. This is not surprising, as although technology is generally developed to improve our lives, the main aim of a company is to make profit.
Personal data was being mistreated in many cases, which led to the introduction of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in 2017. The main purpose of this was to, essentially, put some control back into the hands of consumers, and less so the tech companies. This legislation has been effective in making companies treat personal data more carefully, and in increasing transparency about how they use information. This accountability seems to be beneficial to all on the whole, but has it stunted innovation and company growth significantly?
Tech Company Power and Necessary Privacy Violation
This issue is littered with grey areas. Of course, we should be the owners of our own personal data and should have power over where that information goes and who uses it. However, let’s take an incident from 2016; the FBI approached Apple in 2016 to attempt to unlock a convicted terrorist’s phone. This phone had been programmed to delete all data after ten failed password attempts. Apple refused to comply due to company policy. Who was in the right in this case? Well, there are, again, strong arguments on both sides. The issue here is that neither the FBI nor Apple were legally in the wrong; which tells us that the power of tech giants is very real and not to be underestimated.
The problem that many technology companies have with regulation, and indeed the potential for ‘over-regulation’ is that it has the ability to significantly stunt growth and innovation, or even halt it altogether. The thought is that, with the altercations and debates currently flaring up between the government, the public and the companies themselves around many legal, ethical and restriction issues, overly compensatory legislation will be passed. That is, in order to ‘get ahead’ of the rapid advances happening in the industry, unnecessarily drastic and stringent laws may be passed in order to give the government time to catch up. This may help to redress the power balance, but it might also prevent new ideas and developments from breaking through.
The once distant idea of artificial intelligence (AI) is now very much a reality. With self-learning tech and AI being a large part of our global technology platforms, the lines between who owns what are becoming increasingly blurred. This not only has potential pitfalls when it comes to legal issues but also the ability for technology to learn, independent of human input, which could lead to the acquisition of personal data on a huge scale. This may be a place where strong legislation is vital.
The essential question with all of this is: ‘is our technology safe and fair?’ This, through lawmaking and legislation, has always been the government’s aim with new, culture-shifting technology. However, the speed at which technology now advances makes this pursuit very tricky indeed. Yes, rules and regulations should be present, but to what extent? Do the cons of the current technological power balance between businesses and governing bodies outweigh the pros?
What do you think?