A few months ago, I wrote in this newspaper that the inaction in Washington DC coupled with the European Union’s new Digital Services and Digital Markets Acts would cause global confusion and complication for both tech companies and consumers. The world and the global markets desire clear rules and clear paths forward, not complexity and confusion.
Since I wrote that, matters have become worse. With Washington’s inaction, individual States have stepped in to fill the void in setting the rules for the future of the Internet. Florida’s Governor is expected to soon sign a bill that makes it illegal for tech platforms to take down content from certainoutlets. This will likely open the door for all sorts of litigation by social media users who feel a platform has unfairly taken down their posts. In total, 38 individual States have recently introduced over 100 different bills in an attempt to solve the problem with ‘big tech’.
Take the State of Maryland. It has proposed a new tax aimed squarely at the behavioural advertising business. It would, under the proposal, take a piece of the money big tech earns from the sale of ads on individuals’ data. They’ve decided that tech giants should not be able to sell your data without compensation. But instead of giving you, the user, the money, Maryland has decided that they should take it.
Maryland isn’t alone. We’re now entering an era where ahodgepodge of rules and regulations are set to create serious problems.
First, there is now a void. Tom Wheeler, a former Chair of the Federal Communication Commission has described thisonslaught of new and different State bills and regulation as proof that “nature abhors a vacuum”. He’s right.
Second, this also opens the door for China to take the lead on Internet 3.0 and 4.0, writing its own rulebook and creating dominance, not only in industrial manufacturing, but in tech as well.
It needn’t be this way. Let’s all step back and remember what we are trying to accomplish. What are the problems we are trying to solve? It’s not necessarily that ‘big tech’ is too big; size alone is rarely the whole problem. Instead, I’d argue that there are two issues we need to focus on. First, individuals should own their own data. Second, outright intentional misinformation to cause confusion or violence should be against the law, just as randomly yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theatre is.
What’s now needed is a total rethink about it among business and policymakers. In my view, Ireland is in a position to lead on what is a long overdue reassessment of how to fix it.
Our small country has a chance to show the world a new disruptive way forward. To do it, Ireland must commit to, and participate in, the new rules for the future of the Internet incivilised societies. This means setting new tech tules and regulations. In thinking about how to do this, I believe that we should focus on a simple principle — ‘follow the money’.
Think about it this way: do you own your usage data? Right now, you do not. Instead, companies sell it to the highest bidder. But if you did happen to own your own data, like you should, Instagram, Facebook, Google or whomever might pay you for access to that data. Verification would become the normal behaviour.
This would solve two problems. The rightful owner would get paid for the data and the verification process would go a long way to solve the platform’s trust issues.
In other words, fake news and misinformation would have no incentive to exist if the platforms weren’t making money from it.
Think about it this way: if Facebook monetises all the data on a fake news or misinformation site, what incentive do they have to take it down? The answer, right now, is none.
Conversely, if you owned the data, and you got money for its usage, what incentive would Facebook have to let fake news and misinformation exist if they didn’t get paid for it? Again, the answer would be: none.
So we need to follow the money if we want to solve the problem.
There’s a bigger picture here, too. The end result of these initiatives, if implemented, is that the West maintains its tech dominance through a strengthened transatlantic alliance with all the benefits of increased GDP and more jobs.
For Ireland, what’s at stake is also whether these tech firms continue to see Ireland as their European home.
Now is the time for Ireland to take the lead in what the future looks like.
Let’s work with President Biden and other world leaders to build a transatlantic partnership.
Ireland does not need to wait to follow the world. Ireland must work with the US to lead the world.