China deliberates privacy law in the midst of increased state surveillance

China’s parliament has said it will legislate on privacy protection, while the state has vastly increased surveillance since the outbreak of COVID-19.

The National People’s Congress, China’s highest legislature, is back in session after being delayed by two months by COVID-19. In his work report, the Chairman of the People’s Congress’s Standing Committee singled out three pieces of legislation related to state security and society control as priority tasks in the immediate future. Privacy protection is one of them, the other two being laws on data security and biosecurity, according to the reporting by People’s Daily, one of China’s main propaganda outlets.

This does not come as a complete surprise. At the end of last year, the People’s Congress announced at a press conference that a comprehensive privacy law would go through the legislation process in 2020. So far China’s privacy protection legislation is dispersed in different criminal, civil, and commercial laws and it often replies on the interpretation of judges when it comes to specific litigations. This gives those organisations, businesses, and individuals that have almost unbridled access to personal and private data an almost free hand to determine how to use the data. A group of consumers in China actually lost their case against Amazon when their privacy data on the e-commerce giant’s China site was comprised, which led to their losing large amount of money to phishing schemes.

Tencent and Alibaba have deployed facial recognition solutions at retail outlets where users of their online payment systems can pay for their purchases by looking at the camera at the check-out point. It is true that such solutions are both convenient and adding fun to the shopping experience, and it may also be true that the attitudes towards privacy in China are different from that in Europe. “In China, and across Asia, data is not seen as something to be locked down, it’s something that can be used,” according to a Hong Kong-based lawyer.

More recently, while the country was combating COVID-19, various tracing applications have been developed and deployed using personal data including name, date of birth, physical address, ID number, geo location records, and the like. Some of these apps have been jointly developed by commercial entities and public authorities and law enforcement agencies. Some people have raised concern that when the emergency is over, who and for how long such sensitive data should still be kept.

Probably more important is the scope of application of the impending law. The discussion on China’s official media is all about how to protect private data from being misused or abused by businesses, in particular the internet companies that have both access to the data and the technologies to benefit from it. It cannot help but giving the impression that the law is designed to primarily keep big businesses in check, without tying the government’s hands.

While the state legislature announced the new law being codified, China has vastly increased surveillance over its people, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Reuters reported that the country has seen “hundreds of millions of cameras in public places” being set up in cities and villages, as well as “increasing use of techniques such as smartphone monitoring and facial recognition.” The authorities have successfully located people infected by COVID-19 with surveillance images and facial recognition technologies, state media reported.

However, despite all the talking about AI, big data, and facial recognition, surveillance in China is still largely done by human beings constantly watching surveillance camera footages on screen and smartphone, which doesn’t come cheap. 4,400 cameras were installed in a village in Hubei, the province where COVID-19 first started, costing $5.6 million, according to the Reuters report.


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US politicians want to use crisis to increase state influence over operators

Some Democrat Senators want to make it illegal for communications service providers to disconnect their customers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley is promoting the bill, which he hopes will be part of the next mountain of public cash to be chucked at fighting the crisis, proposed by the Democrats. They seem keen to chuck another three trillion bucks at the problem and, as with all the previous coronavirus bills in the US, opportunistic politicians on both sides of the aisle will be keen to add funding for their own pet causes to the bottom of the bill.

“Now, as millions of Americans hunker down, work from home, and engage in remote learning, would be the absolute worst time for Americans to lose a critical utility like internet service,” said Merkley. “Oregonians and people across America deserve to know that as we weather the social and economic consequences of this storm together, they will still have be able to go to work, go to school, buy groceries, and stay connected to loved ones—all of which many depend on the internet to do. Congress should include this protection in the next coronavirus response bill.”

There is little sign of a plague of disconnections, however, so it’s not clear why Merkley is being kept awake at night over this issue. US citizens unable to work are being paid instead by the government, as they are in many other countries, so there shouldn’t be a time when they’re unable to pay their telecoms bills. Furthermore the FCC already got US ISPs to sign a pledge not to disconnect people.

Instead this has the feeling of a thin-ends-of-the wedge, giving the state greater powers to order communications companies around. Furthermore, if it became known that it was illegal to disconnect people, what incentive would anyone have to pay their bills. The thinking behind this bill is probably indicated by the fact that a co-sponsor is old-school socialist Bernie Sanders, who seems to think all private property is somehow immoral.

Once the dust settles on all this viral vileness we may see that a lot of the power hastily handed over to the state in the heat of the moment remains in place. It’s one thing to temporarily turn on the tap of public money, quite another for the state to commandeer companies. US politicians seem to be especially shameless about exploiting the urgency of this crisis to push through legislation that would be laughed out of the room under normal circumstances, and US telcos must be hoping this particular bill is squashed as quickly as possible.

Microsoft praises facial recognition regulation progress

Brad Smith, the President of Microsoft, has praised steps taken in Washington State to regulate controversial facial recognition technologies, but the landscape still remains incredibly fragmented.

Such issues would rarely bother the consumer today, but the same could have been said about a Facebook personality quiz in 2015. Like the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings, small actions have the potential to blossom into chaos, and the implementation of facial recognition certainly fits into this category.

As it stands, the freedom in which facial recognition technologies are being experimented with, thanks to a lack of accurate regulation, is dangerous.

“Washington state’s new law breaks through what, at times, has been a polarizing debate,” Smith said in a blog post.

“When the new law comes into effect next year, Washingtonians will benefit from safeguards that ensure upfront testing, transparency and accountability for facial recognition, as well as specific measures to uphold fundamental civil liberties.”

Regulation applied retrospectively is a very difficult thing to do. In this case, as some police forces and intelligence services have been making use of the technology, they might resist any attempts to draw limitations. Regulating proactively to prevent abuse instead of trying to take away existing powers is a much more effective approach to take, removing the risk of concessions and compromises.

This is what Washington State has done, as Smith praises. Governor Jay Inslee has attempted to get ahead of the adoption curve before it progresses too aggressively.

Passed on March 12 by a 27 to 21 count, Senate Bill 6280 was signed into law by the Governor on March 31. This piece of legislation creates a framework to dictate how facial recognition technologies can be used by authorities but protects democratic freedoms and civil liberties. This is the accountability that it required for a pervasive technology which poses a significant threat to privacy and a significant opportunity for misuse.

What is worth noting is that while Washington State is claiming the praise here, there are others who have made very ambitious progress in this field already.

Washington State should of course be commended for this piece of legislation, but lawmakers in Illinois deserve the crown when it comes to forward looking law. Senators in the midwestern state have already passed the Biometric Information Privacy Act, which offers stringent protections to citizens by designating biometric data as valuable as a social security number. Companies and authorities would have to consult users and citizens before using the technology, rules which Facebook has fallen foul of as it faces another privacy lawsuit in the state.

Amazingly, the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act protecting citizens against the free-wielding and unvalidated implementation of facial recognition technologies was signed into law in 2008.

While Illinois set the standards in years gone, Washington is taking legislation of this technology to a new level. Under the new rules:

  • APIs or other technical capabilities will have to be made available to enable testing of the technologies by third parties to ensure there is no bias embedded in the algorithms
  • Vendors must also disclose any complaints or reports of bias regarding the service
  • A clear use and data management policy must be created and validated before any technologies can be implemented by authorities
  • Humans, not machines, must be responsible for the decision making associated with any component of the facial recognition technology
  • Mass surveillance has been ruled out. Implementation must be for a specific purpose, though there are exceptions to the mass surveillance case, (1) if a warrant allows it (2) finding a missing person or identifying a deceased individual (3) exigent circumstances
  • Surveillance cannot be applied to any individual’s exercise of First Amendment rights, and authorities cannot justify facial recognition based on a person’s ‘religious, political or social views or activities’
  • Finally, any implementations must be opened to public consultation

There are of course many more nuances and clauses written in suitably foreign legalese, though as you can see from the bullet points above, this is a very comprehensive law which should prevent the flamboyant implementation of facial recognition technologies.

Getting regulation in front of the rapidly developing technology industry is a thankless and often impossible task, meaning most legislation should be viewed as risk mitigation. These rules are promising, but there will certainly be loopholes exploited by the slippery lawyers of Silicon Valley. However, Washington State legislators should be applauded for their efforts to control a potentially divisive technology.

Given the complexities of the technology industry, it is slightly unfair to criticise lawmakers for not being able to protect us completely from the nefarious twists and turns of the digital economy. Few people in the world understand how the technology industry works today, and a radically smaller percentage can accurately forecast developments over the next decade. This is what we are asking of legislators.

Washington, Illinois and California are three who have made progress, but it is critical other states follow the lead. For evidence of why, simply have a look at the impact 2015’s ‘This Is Your Digital Life’ Facebook app has had on life years later.

Tinder comes under the scope of Irish GDPR watchdog

Dating apps have forever changed the way millennials find relationships (for however long they last…) but Tinder has found itself under the scrutiny of the Irish regulator.

The dating trailblazer has found itself alongside serial privacy offender Google as the focal point of an investigation from lead-European GDPR regulator the Irish Data Protection Commission. The question is whether MTCH Technology Services, the parent-company of Tinder, complies with GDPR in terms of processing user data.

“The identified issues pertain to MTCH Technology Services Limited’s ongoing processing of users’ personal data with regard to its processing activities in relation to the Tinder platform, the transparency surrounding the ongoing processing, and the company’s compliance with its obligations with regard to data subject right’s requests,” a statement from the regulator said.

Interestingly enough, a recent investigation from the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) suggested several dating apps such as Grindr, OkCupid, and Tinder might be breaking GDPR. The investigation suggested nine out of ten of the most popular dating apps were transmitting data to ‘unexpected third-parties’ without seeking consent from users, potentially violating GDPR.

As these applications collect sensitive information, sexual preferences, behavioural data, and location, there could be quite the backlash. The Irish Data Protection Commission will investigate how this information is processed, whether it then transmitted onto third parties and if the developers are being transparent enough with their users.

Alongside the Tinder investigation, the Irish watchdog is also investigating a regular for the privacy enforcement community, Google.

Once again, transparency is the key word here, as it so often is when one of the Silicon Valley residents are placed under the microscope. The authority will hope to understand how Google collects and processes location data, while also seeing whether it has been effectively informing users prior to collecting consent.

Google is seemingly constantly under the scrutiny of one regulator or another due to the complex web that is its operations. No-one outside of Google genuinely understands every aspect of the business, therefore a new potential privacy scandal emerges every so often as the layers of complexity are pulled back. In this investigation, it is not entirely clear what product or service is the focal point.

What is worth bearing in mind that any new privacy investigations are most likely to focus on timelines which were initiated following the introduction of GDPR in 2018. Anything prior to this, for example the Equifax leak or Yahoo hack, would not have been subject to the same financial penalties.

For the Tinder and Google investigations, any wrongdoing could be punished with a fine up to €2 million or 4% of total annual revenues, whichever is greater. We haven’t seen many of these fines to date because of the timing of the incidents or investigations, but regulators might well be looking for a case to prove there is a bite behind the regulatory bark, a means to scare corporates into action and proactive security measures.

An excellent example of this enforcement concerns Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The investigation into potential GDPR violations takes into account several different things; the incident itself, security procedures and features, transparency with the user and assistance with the investigation, to name a few. Facebook did not cover itself with glory and was not exactly helpful during the investigation, CEO Mark Zuckerberg refused to appear in front of a Parliamentary Committee in the UK when called upon.

As this incident occurred prior to the introduction of GDPR, the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK was only permitted to fine the social media giant £500,000. Facebook’s annual revenue for 2013, when the incident occurred, was $7.87 billion. The maximum penalty which could have been applied under GDPR would have been $314 million.

Although the potential fines have been well-documented, until there is a case to point to most companies will push the boundary between right and wrong. Caution is generally only practised when the threat of punishment is followed through to make an example.

Amnesty calls out Google and Facebook on privacy abuses

Amnesty International has unveiled a new report heavily criticising Google and Facebook, and the alleged strategies employed to abuse privacy rights of individuals.

The report, which is downloadable here, claims the likes of Google and Facebook force the general public into a Faustian bargain. Users are effectively asked to forgo certain human rights in order to access the digital society which we are now so dependent on.

“The internet is vital for people to enjoy many of their rights, yet billions of people have no meaningful choice but to access this public space on terms dictated by Facebook and Google,” said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“To make it worse this isn’t the internet people signed up for when these platforms started out. Google and Facebook chipped away at our privacy over time.

“We are now trapped. Either we must submit to this pervasive surveillance machinery – where our data is easily weaponised to manipulate and influence us – or forego the benefits of the digital world. This can never be a legitimate choice.”

The extensive report outlines the business models which allegedly trap the general public into forgoing privacy rights, and calls governments to create more comprehensive privacy frameworks to prevent the harvesting of data. The key issue is the conditions placed on accessing these prominent services, Amnesty International does not believe Google and Facebook should be able to deny access if a user does not consent to data collection.

What is worth noting is that opting-out of certain services is an option. Google’s mapping products do have the opt-out option for example, though this is only a scratch on the surface. Not only are these opt-outs limited, we suspect few in the general public would actually realise this is an alternative.

While this is certainly one of the more comprehensive attacks on the global dominance of two of Silicon Valley’s most prominent residents, this is of course not the first. Amnesty International are quite late to the party as various politicians, including Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren, and non-profits, Electronic Frontier Foundation for example, have been protesting Big Tech for some time.

In fairness to the critics, there are some valid points. Firstly, on the market dominance of these two technology giants, and secondly, on the way we as society have sleep-walked into a position where the landscape has been artificially manufactured to compound this dominance.

Some of the more radical critics of Big Tech have been pushing for divestments of certain assets. This will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to deliver though the idea does force regulators to think more proactively about approving acquisitions and mergers in the first place.

For example, if regulators knew then what we know now, would Google have been allowed to acquire Android and YouTube? Equally, would Facebook have been allowed to absorb Instagram and WhatsApp? These six different platforms account for such a monstrous amount of internet traffic, opinion, news and debate, it seems irresponsible for such power to be concentrated into two companies.

Whether this can be fixed is still up for debate, though we are sceptical. Those who are under-threat of divestment are working to integrate the under-fire assets in such a complex manner with other areas of the business, it would be an operational and financial nightmare. If these companies can make it look disastrous to pluck apart the operations, politicians will likely back-off. The Government does not want to destroy one of the main drivers of the economy after all.

The second valid point is the creation of the digital public square. The means by which we share opinion and debate ideas has fundamentally shifted in recent years. People might be afraid of confrontation in real life, but they certainly aren’t online. Some might question whether this is healthy, but it is a reality of today’s society.

However, in accessing the digital public square, Amnesty International argues too many rights are waivered. Privacy is the central cog and Big Tech has been gradually eroding the concept of privacy for years. In 2010, we would have never dreamed of sharing some of the information we do today, but like the boiling frog, we have allowed the environment to change without protest.

The issue at the heart of this on-going debate is of course the treasure trove of data which is being horded by Big Tech. These are companies where the very life blood is information, hence why services are offered to the consumer for free. These services have become critical to the way in which we communicate, learn and debate; avoiding the platforms is an impossible task for some.

It is always worth pointing out that while Amnesty International is highly critical of the dominance of Facebook and Google, it is enjoying the benefits. The report has been circulated on the various platform to draw more eyeballs to the issue, while the organization does run ads through both companies to attract more attention and donations.

Like many other of the critical voices, Amnesty International is calling for greater protections to the consumer. The organisation hasn’t gone as far as to call for a break-up of Big Tech, perhaps realising this is an unachievable goal, but further restrictions should be placed on the companies who are so easily influencing every aspect of our lives.

Facebook and Google are here to stay, primarily because they make incredibly intelligent and forward-looking investment decisions, though how much influence they have on the future is open to debate. Today, these companies have scarily detailed profiles on users, though whether the political rhetoric to limit these powers is anything more than campaign promises remains to be seen.

Italy readies itself for tax assault on Silicon Valley

The Italian Government is preparing to join the UK and France in taking a tougher tax stance against Big Tech with the introduction of a 3% sales tax.

Designed to target the elusive technology giants which have been slipping between the mountains of red-tape to take advantage of cheaper tax destinations, the levy will be based against revenues realised in the market as opposed to tax. While it might be possible to move profits to different markets in the bloc, it is much more difficult to disguise payments taken from individuals who physically reside in Italy.

While it still might be early days in tackling the abuses of the taxation landscape, momentum is starting to gather. According to sources, the new tax regime could be announced during the next budget and set in place January 2020. The new budget from the coalition is due to be submitted to the European Commission today [October 15].

Although details are relatively thin for the moment, take any predictions or leaks with a pinch of salt. It would be fair to assume Italy is heading down the same route as the UK and France in holding Silicon Valley accountable to a fair and reasonable tax position, though due to the complicated political situation in the country, what form this could take is unknown for the moment.

During the 2018 Italian election, no political group or party won an outright majority resulting in a hung parliament. Numerous coalition governments could have been formed, and after a few failed attempts, the centre-left Democratic party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement were sworn in last month.

These policies have been in the works for some time now, though what eventually comes out of the wash remains to be seen. Interesting enough, the failure of this latest coalition could force the country into another election, potentially a new government and perhaps a new line on tackling Big Tech.

That said, the only thing which is clear coming out of this political kafuffle is that Silicon Valley is a target.

Across Europe there are several member states who are becoming increasingly frustrated with the flamboyance of the internet giants accounting departments. There are of course a few who have scuppered a pan-European approach to new digital tax rules, the likes of Ireland and Luxembourg of course benefit from the unfair status quo, though with several member states going it alone, the writing is on the wall for Big Tech.

This is just one element of the changing landscape for tech. Alongside a rethink on tax rules, regulation and legislation governing data, privacy, surveillance, free speech, political advertising and artificial intelligence are in the works. Governments and regulators are attempting to drag bureaucracy and the rulebook into the digital era, and it might be a bit uncomfortable for some of Silicon Valley’s residents.

California proposes strictest privacy rules in the US

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has unveiled new privacy proposals which have the potential to rival the impact of Europe’s GDPR on the digital economy.

When Europe announced its General Data Protection Regulation the digital economy was thrown into chaos. Businesses around the world had to audit monstrous amounts of data, as well as reconfigure business models, data collection procedures and relationships to ensure compliance. The rules being proposed here are slightly different, but Becerra is enforcing a privacy first mentality which might not sit comfortably with some in the digital economy.

There are three components of this proposed legislation to keep an eye-on. Firstly, the consumer has the right to request details on the data being stored by companies. Secondly, they have the right to demand this information be deleted. And thirdly, companies will have to seek consent from the consumer to monetize the data.

“Knowledge is power, and in the internet age knowledge is derived from data,” said Becerra. “Our personal data is what powers today’s data-driven economy and the wealth it generates. It’s time we had control over the use of our personal data. That includes keeping it private.

“We take a historic step forward today to protect Californians’ inalienable right to privacy. Once again, California leads the way putting people first in the Age of the Internet.”

However, before the privacy enthusiasts get too excited, there are some hurdles to negotiate. The original California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) has been passed, and will come into effect on January 1, though there have been additional bills passed to water-down the strength of these rules.

Although this will hit some like a bad smell, this is the reality of politics. Lobbyists in the US are incredibly powerful, and they are being fuelled by a very profitable technology industry with a lot to lose. This is not to say the new rules will not make an impact, though they might not be as revolutionary as some would hope when they come into effect.

That said, this will create the strongest privacy legislative regime across the US, ironically, in the home of the company’s who play so carelessly with privacy rights.

Looking at the similarities with GDPR, it does seem there has been some inspiration drawn from the rules. The right to request more information, as well as the right to demand deletion, are two elements which seem to be taken from GDPR. The final element mentioned above is very interesting and we suspect will be the focal point of the lobby efforts as these rules gather momentum.

The inclusion of a ‘Do not sell my data’ link is an aspect no-one in the data-sharing economy will want to see. The industry has largely profited to date through inaction. No-one can do anything about the monetization of data short of refusing to download the app. Consumers are effectively being forced into participating in the digital economy as there are no rules to provide an alternative. This element of the legislation would certainly cause a stir.

Some people will not like the fact companies are making money off their personal data if they are not getting a share of the rewards, irrelevant as to whether they are getting a service for free. Some will object on ethical grounds. Some will reject the concept as the risk of data breaches or leaks is deemed too great. Some will feel uneasy as there are still so many unknowns regarding the darker corners of the world wide web.

Irrelevant as to why an individual might not like the current status quo, as there has been no alternative, it has mattered little. The introduction of an alternative presents a lot of unknown scenarios. More moving parts will have to be factored into risk assessment protocols. It presents uncertainty, which is the enemy of profit.

Interestingly enough, Becerra seems to have learnt the residents of Silicon Valley have very elusive lawyers. Also included in the rules are definitions of those who would be subject to the rules. The company would have to:

  • Have revenues in excess of $25 million
  • Buy, receive, or sell the personal information of 50,000 or more consumers, households, or devices
  • Derives 50% of annual revenues from selling data

These are quite crafty conditions and could potentially cover every type of organization out there. The lawyers will have to be on top-form to find the grey areas here.

The rules still have to negotiate the turns and throws of the political aisles before the digital economy gets too worried, but California is setting the pace when it comes to tackling privacy concerns in the US.

Europe postures with standards leadership still on the line

European standards organization ETSI has released a report demanding the continent take a leadership role for standards and regulation in the global digital economy.

While some might question whether the sluggish Brussels bureaucrats can get up to speed quick enough, there is hope; regulators around the world all share the same track-record when it comes to the painfully slow progress of creating regulatory and legal frameworks.

The report, commissioned at the request of ETSI, was authored over the first-half of 2019 and demands Europe take the lead on creating the standards necessary for a healthy and progressive digital economy.

“Our competitors are very serious about taking the lead in digital transformation,” said Carl Bildt, Co-Chair European Council on Foreign Relations.

“It is important that EU lawmakers put standardization at the centre of EU digital and industrial strategy. Otherwise Europe will become a rule taker, forever playing catch-up in the innovation, production and delivery of new digital products and services.”

Although many would want to see a collaborative, geographically-neutral, approach to standardising the digital economy, this is unlikely to happen. As Bildt highlights above, someone will take a leadership position, standards will gain acceptance, before other regions will have to adopt the rules.

The question which remains is whether Europe, the US or China will have the greatest influence on global standards. In fact, ETSI questions whether Europe is keeping pace with leaders today or whether its influence is waning already. Unfortunately, with the platform economy gaining more traction each day, this is one area which should not be considered a strength of the bloc.

46% of platforms with a revenue above $1 billion are based in the US and 35% in Asia, while Europe only accounts for 18%. These platforms often drive their own ecosystems and have largely been self-regulating to date. This is going to change in the future, though to give European organizations a chance at capturing growth, the European Commission might have to lead the charge to create open-standards. The contrary approach might only offer the established players greater momentum and influence.

This is perhaps the risk which is emerging currently. The idea of globalisation and open-standards are not new, though there is evidence certain markets are heading towards a more isolationist mindset and regime.

Although it is easy to point the finger at aggressive political leaders elsewhere, the report demands Europe look intrinsically also. The European Commission has to take a strong leadership position across the bloc, as with 28 members states there is risk of fragmentation. It only has to be slight variances to start, but this could snowball into greater complications. The digital tax conundrum is an example of what can go wrong over an extended period of time.

This report might be more of a generalist statement to encourage a proactive mindset from European bureaucrats, though there are plenty of examples of governments, public sector administrations and private industry trying to control the tone.

Looking at the ever more influential world of artificial intelligence, the number of feasibility, standards and ethics boards is quite staggering. All of these initiatives will want to create rules and frameworks to govern the operation and progression of AI, though only one can be adopted as the global standard. Regional variances are of course feasible, but this should not be deemed healthy.

In the UK, the Government created its AI Council. The European Commission has released various white papers exploring how AI should be governed. The White House’s National Science and Technology Council Committee on Technology is also exploring the world of AI. Facebook has even created its own independent advisory panel to aid the creation of standards and regulation.

Should Europe want to control the global standards process, it will come up against some stiff competition. The power and influence of the US should not be underestimated, it is home to some of the worlds’ most recognisable and profitable brands after all, while China has a track-record of flooding working groups at standards organizations. This will have a noticeable impact on the final outcome.

That said, the success of GDPR will offer hope.

Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation might have caused headaches all around the world, but it has set the tone on the approach to privacy, management of data and the influence of the consumer. Since its introduction, several other countries, India and Japan being two examples, have been inspired by GDPR to introduce similar regulation, while there have been calls in the US to do the same also.

This piece of regulation was critical to ensure the European principles of privacy are maintained moving forward. This is a win, but there are still battles to be had when it comes to AI, security, encryption, cross-border data flow and access to data.

Standardisation might not be the most exciting topic to discuss in the TMT world, though taking a leadership position can offer advantages to the companies who call that region home. A thorough and innovative regulatory regime can open-up new markets, ensure competition is healthy throughout the ecosystem and drive national economies at scale.

The regulatory landscape is set to undergo somewhat of a shift over the coming months and years, though which region will take the lead is still hanging in the balance.

Government deals with difficult landlords

The UK Government has unveiled new rules which will allow telcos to speed-up the process of dealing with non-responsive landlords.

One of the challenges being faced by telcos in upgrading broadband across the country is gaining access to the right properties and land. Multi-dwelling units seem to be the biggest challenge, as some property owners are less than helpful when granting access. The new rules will speed up the process of seeking access through the courts for telcos.

“We’re pushing ahead with delivering the digital infrastructure that will underpin the UK’s future growth and boost our productivity,” said Digital Minister Nicky Morgan.

“We’ve just announced £5 billion so that people in rural communities will get gigabit speed internet at the same time as everyone else. And we’re now making sure people living in blocks of flats and apartments are not left behind either and can reap the huge benefits of the fastest and most resilient internet connections.”

Telcos claim that 40% of requests to enter a property are left unanswered by the landlords, and while we suspect this number has been inflated for the purpose of the lobbyists, access to multi-dwelling units is a persistent complaint.

“This new law is something Virgin Media has long called for – it breaks through a major broadband barrier as we invest to bring gigabit speeds to our entire, ever-growing network,” said Lutz Schüler, CEO of Virgin Media. “Giving broadband builders clear and efficient access rights will mean the many forgotten flats across the country can get the next-eneration connectivity they deserve.”

Under the current rules, telcos can petition the courts for access to properties should the landlord be unresponsive, though this process can take up-to six months and cost as much as £14,000. The new rules offer a streamlined service, reducing the action time to 6-7 weeks, and the cost to £300 per case.

Although this is only addressing a single challenge in the digital economy, it is one of the issues which has been highlighted in recent months by the telcos. Should these companies have any chance of meeting the Government’s exceptionally aggressive full-fibre deployment objectives, there are a lot of regulatory barriers which will have been be broken down. This is one, demonstrating the Government is perhaps listening to the appeals of industry.

Presidential hopeful criticizes lack of tech knowledge in US Government

Senator Elizabeth Warren has launched a Twitter tirade to blast Government officials who are seeking regulatory advice from those who will be subject to the stricter regulation.

Although understanding the consequences of new regulation from those who would be deemed most impacted in a sensible way to operate, it does appear Warren believes there is too much reliance on outside sources.

Critics of government agencies and regulatory officials will be quick to raise a glass. For some, the competency of bureaucrats is woefully lacking when it comes to understanding the nuances of the technology industry. This is perhaps understandable, the segment moves at a remarkable pace after all, however it does create the difficult regulatory landscape where companies are free to duck and dive through the grey areas of inaction, inadequacy or a lack of progress.

“I’ve got a plan to end lobbying as we know it — but strengthening Congress’ independence requires us to do more,” Warren said on Twitter. “We must invest in resources to allow members of Congress to make informed decisions without relying on self-interested outside sources.

“My plan revives and modernizes the Office of Technology Assessment, shores up congressional support agencies, and transitions congressional staff to competitive salaries — so we can have competent public policy that actually holds big corporations accountable.”

Warren has hit the nail on the head when it comes to understanding why the chasm between the technology industry and the rules governing it is so wide; those who understand how the industry works, go work for the private sector. This is down to the salaries which are being paid, and also the work itself. Do the best and brightest in the work want to work drafting rules and red-tape, or would they rather work on creating cutting edge technologies and services?

Pumping more cash into these agencies and organizations will not solve the problem of a skills shortage, but it will address one of the difficulties.

To be fair to Warren, she is addressing a problem which plagues politics; the influence of interest groups. This is not an issue restricted to Washington, though as the US is home to some of the worlds’ most influential technology companies, it is perhaps more apparent in the country than anywhere else.

With the issue of net neutrality, the telcos threw cash at the lobbyists. And when it comes to the break-up of Big Tech, Silicon Valley began signing cheques which would make eyes water. Over the course of 2018, Google spent $21.7 million on lobbyists, AT&T spend $18.5 million, Amazon $14.4 million, Facebook $12.6 million and Comcast $15.6 million. These figures are only lobbyist spend in the US, and it is also worth bearing in mind associations would have their own spend as well.

The lobby industry is a powerful one in the US, this is not something which will change unless there is a significant upheaval, though politicians and officials could be less susceptible to it. This is where Warren is making a very valid point.

Industry should be consulted on up-coming regulatory evolution, this is only reasonable as regulation is not supposed to destroy business models, however it is important those asking the questions should have a comprehensive understanding. It will (theoretically) stop officials being misled, over- or under-compensating and aids future proofed regulation.

This will be a monumental challenge for Warren and her team, though it is a lot more achievable than previous claims make by the Presidential hopeful.

In announcing her plans to charge towards the White House, Warren also declared war on Silicon Valley. In an age where politicians are making big promises, Warren raised the stakes by suggesting the break-up of Big Tech.

Dissecting these companies is a daunting task, but it is also one which a few might question the logic of. Yes, the internet giants need to be held more accountable through regulation and greater scrutiny on acquisitions which could lead to a less competitive marketplace, however these are the companies which are driving the US economic dominance on the world stage. Weakening the positions of these companies could very well undermine the pursuit of success and open the door for competitors in other nations to mount a challenge.

However, with the announcement made via Twitter, the US Government would certainly be in a better position if more ably-minded, tech enthusiasts were on the payroll. Many criticise the sluggish nature and short-sightedness of governments, irrelevant to their nationality or location, and Warren is proposing a model to reassert the capability of the Government.

Another question which you have to ask is where the money to fund these salaries is going to come from? Either some departments are deprived, taxes are further straining, monies are borrowed, or industry is asked to contribute. The latter is the most likely, though this would give another reason for industry to line the pockets of the lobbyists.

In truth, this suggestion is a nightmare for the residents of Silicon Valley. These companies have benefitted unimaginably from the regulatory chasm, seeking profits through the introduction of new business models which traditional industry could not dream of.

Ironically, the suggestion of tackling lobbyists will probably make the whisperers and nudgers even richer.