Another Requiem for self-regulation

As a service to my readers below are a few choice snippets from recent media coverage on the vexed question of regulation and the internet. These have arisen in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Before getting to them I should say that I am writing this blog from my hotel room in India, where, it turns out three Analytica stories are unfurling. One is highly political but historic, the second is highly political and contemporary while the third is about Facebook.

Getting back to regulation. A great deal hangs on how you define what constitutes “self-regulation” but some people are still wedded to the idea of self-regulation as a symbol or token of a basic approach. For example, when the UK’s IWF was first established in 1996 it was, unquestionably, a self-regulatory body. That ceased to be the case a long time ago. Whatever way you look at it the IWF is today engaged in a co-regulatory system.

Symbols can be very important, but truly it is time to bury the idea of self-regulation – with all appropriate honours and respect – yet it should be buried nonetheless. That is not to say I think there is never any scope for any kind of self-regulatory activity in respect of anything to do with the internet but from here on in it has to be against a background of full and informed consent.

If ever it was in any doubt we now know with crystal clarity that, for all the pious words we hear from some quarters, the interests of internet businesses and the public do not always coincide at least not in the short-term and this can sometimes shade into the medium and longer term. Thus, in my book self-regulation is only acceptable if it can be shown to fit in to a larger framework of effective management of the internet that demonstrably works in the wider public interest.

Here’s where others do the talking. On the question of advertising – and let’s not forget Facebook is an advertising business – Mark Zuckerberg said this on 22nd March, 2018

“There are things like ads transparency regulation that I would love to see,”. “If you look at how much regulation there is around advertising on TV and print, it’s just not clear why there should be less on the internet.”

Tim Cooke of Apple is very blunt

“I think the best regulation is no regulation, is self-regulation,”  “However, I think we’re beyond that here.” ( he was referring to Facebook)

“….. large profound change is needed”, “(the) situation is so dire, and has become so large, that probably some well-crafted regulation is necessary”.

Facebook in reality has become a metaphor for how the internet as a whole is managed. That doesn’t excuse them of their culpability in the Analytica thing, rather it highlights how we have crossed a threshold. The regulation that is surely coming will not just be about Facebook.

As if to recognise this here is another quote from Mr Zuckerberg. This time about the GDPR: it “will be applied worldwide”. There you go.