Its time to properly regulate tech giants, says House of Lords committee

Houses of Parliament Westminster LondonA House of Lords committee has called on the government to put in place a framework to regulate tech companies, pointing out that that there are more than a dozen UK regulators with powers to cover the digital world yet none with a complete remit.

In the House of Lords Communications Committee’s ‘Regulating in a Digital World’ report, it suggests that a new ‘Digital Authority’ should be setup to co-ordinate all the regulators with a remit to cover online goings-on. It states that this authority should provide the public, the government, and parliament with the latest information, and that it should report to a joint committee formed between both Houses of Parliament.

“The Government should not just be responding to news headlines but looking ahead so that the services that constitute the digital world can be held accountable to an agreed set of principles,” said Lord Gilbert of Panteg, the chairman of the committee.

“Self-regulation by online platforms is clearly failing and the current regulatory framework is out of date. The evidence we heard made a compelling and urgent case for a new approach to regulation. Without intervention, the largest tech companies are likely to gain ever more control of technologies which extract personal data and make decisions affecting peoples lives. Our proposals will ensure that rights are protected online as they are offline while keeping the internet open to innovation and creativity, with a new culture of ethical behaviour embedded in the design of service.”

In order to help guide the government on the direction to take in terms of regulation, the report sets out 10 principles that should be followed. These principles refer to things such as accountability, transparency, privacy, ethics, and freedom of speech, among others.

In addition, the report highlights areas that require specific action, including duty of care, ethical technology, and market concentration.

The committee believes that a duty of care should be imposed on online services which house content that can be uploaded and accessed by the public. And suggests that community standards should be made clearer by tech companies by having to adhere to a classification framework similar to the one use to give films age ratings.

On the ethics front, the report states that users should have more control over the collection of their personal data, with maximum privacy and safety settings being the default on all platforms. Furthermore, companies that collect data to have to publish annual reports to illustrate the types of data they collect, how long it’s stored for, and how it’s used. On top of this, the committee wants the Information Commissioner’s Office to be handed more power to conduct ‘impact-based’ audits around the algorithms used by tech companies.

Finally, the report points out that a small number of companies control the vast majority of the internet. As such, it suggests that the government keeps a closer eye on mergers and acquisitions by these companies.