Begging a question

Amazing statistics emerged last week courtesy of a body called WARC which presents itself as Your global authority on advertising and media effectiveness.

WARC was publicising a study carried out by Verto Analytics according to which, between them, Google and Facebook account for 25% of all of the time spent online by adult UK internet users. One might imagine the proportion in respect of children was likely to be higher but there is no information on that point.

In this context Google was represented by search, Gmail and YouTube. They took one in six (17%) of every UK minute. This amounted to the equivalent of 42.7 million days per month.

Not very far behind was Facebook, which included Instagram and WhatsApp. Their 11% equated to 28.4 million days per month. Microsoft (7%) and Apple (5%) were up there with the dear old BBC, at 2%, marginally ahead of Amazon.

Any way you look at it these numbers reflect the staggering grip these mainly American companies have on the attention of UK adults. I have no problem at all with that in principle but here’s one of the things that keeps nagging away at me and it is particularly relevant to mention it as the Backpage furore continues apace in the States.

In the USA s.230 of the CDA is not identical to the eCommerce Directive which operates here in the UK, and indeed across the whole of the EU.

Although the CDA provision was later eroded by other legislative measures, for example to address trade mark infringement and copyright theft, in principle it confers a more or less unqualified immunity from any liability which might otherwise arise because of the postings or activity of third parties on your site or platform. This is the reason Backpage was able to get away with it for so long.

By contrast, the EU’s eCommerce Directive’s protection only applies if, upon notice, the platform provider or website owner acts expeditiously to address an identified wrong.

And yet here in the UK, despite this difference, the large US companies somehow managed to carve out for themselves a substantial share of the market. Go figure.

So when US advocates argue for global standards is what they really mean ” current US standards”? Or to be more precise, “the standard dreamed up in the US in 1996 when we didn’t really know how things were going to pan out when Web 2.0 came along.”

s.230 has become a refuge for scoundrels and an alibi for indefinite inaction. Things have moved on a lot since 1996. Isn’t it time to revisit the clause in the light of what the Backpage scandal has revealed?

Why would anyone want to defend or preserve a system that allows something like Backpage to happen? Are we seriously expected to believe it is beyond our wit to devise a form of words which would allow judicial authorities to distinguish between political discourse, technical innovation, artistic expression and child sex trafficking?





About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International and is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John is now or has formerly been an Adviser to the Council of Europe, the UN (ITU), the EU and UNICEF. John has advised many of the world's largest technology companies on online child safety. John's skill as a writer has also been widely recognised.
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