The UK’s Secretary of State responsible for internet policy, Jeremy Wright MP, is in California this week meeting various high tech companies ahead of a soon-to-be-released White Paper which will shape Britain’s future policy on a range of internet harms and issues including, of course, those affecting children. Publication is said to be “imminent”.
Seemingly he had already met a senior person from Facebook, one Sir Nicholas Clegg, formerly of this parish and now he is going to meet Mark Zuckerberg. Sir Nicholas has expressed a preference for “co-regulation” as the basis of future relationships. Doubtless that topic will crop up when he meets the boss.
Mr Wright was interviewed on the Today programme (about 6.25 this morning). Asked what he thought about the co-regulation idea Mr Wright replied
“That’s not a term I would use.”
He went on to say
“We will talk to the companies, that’s why I am here in California this week, but we will draw up and make the rules” (or words to that effect).
This was all so predictable and all so avoidable. Or was it? Anyone with two brain cells could have seen the way things were shaping up. Maybe the high ups in Silicon Valley concluded some time ago there was now nothing they could do to halt or reverse the process so they would just make the best of it, try and dilute or ameliorate it, but otherwise drag out the status quo for as long as they could. From a purely business point of view that would not be an irrational decision.
While no one doubts the huge benefits of the internet, much, not all, of the dazzle and the glamour has faded. We all have a more realistic idea of what it is. Governments have gained in confidence and have finally decided they must act if only for fear of being punished by their voters if they don’t. Yes politicians want the jobs and the investment but not if the electoral price, ultimately, is too high.
The internet has tried to be too many things to too many different people and interests. I wouldn’t say the party is over but it is likely to be a different party. The internet may lose some of its exciting edginess, and we will all miss that, but it will gain in the area of consumer confidence, trust and safety. Or at least that’s the plan.