Digital

Knee-jerk reactions are no way to regulate big tech

Regulation enthusiasts around the world have set their sights on big tech.

In the UK, the outlet for this newfound appetite to rein in Silicon Valley is a brand new quango called the Digital Markets Unit [DMU], set to form part of the existing Competition and Markets Authority [CMA]. Specifics about the DMU’s remit are hard to come by, but the Government says it intends to foster a ‘pro-competition regime’ as it adapts the regulatory landscape to the challenges of big tech.

Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the minister holding the levers of power behind the DMU, is keeping his cards close to his chest. His stance remains murky, for instance, on the recent regulatory punch-up between Facebook and the Australian government. State powers down under emerged victorious after Mark Zuckerberg agreed to fork out new fees in order to host news links on Facebook.

Dowden has reportedly been chatting to his Australian counterparts – and has sent cryptic messages to the t-shirt-wearing gurus across the Atlantic (and Nick Clegg) – but has yet to come down on either side of the fence or offer any substantial hints about whether or not Britain might follow in Australia’s footsteps.

Others in Westminster appear much keener on an agenda of active hostility towards the American tech giants. Matt Hancock has already said he wants to see the UK mimic Australia’s hamstringing of social media companies by forcing them to pay news producers, calling himself a ‘great admirer’ of countries which have done so successfully.

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak is already planning his next move. In the manner of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Dictator in a 100-metre sprint firing a gun at runners as they pull out ahead, Sunak has set his sights on the uber-successful technology industry, and wants to slow that success down by taxing it.

Not only does Sunak want to penalise tech giants for their successful business models with a new tax, he is also planning to use this year’s G7 summit in sandy Cornwall to lobby his international counterparts to do the same, with US treasury secretary Janet Yellen first in line to hear his pitch, which has the support of the Prime Minister. Companies like Amazon are already taxed for their digital services in the UK, but the chancellor views the current system as a stopgap until a global tech tax can be implemented.

This dramatic influx of punitive policies is set to do much more harm than good. Some new regulation may well be needed in this area – but there is an urgent danger that the Government will hurriedly execute a raft of headline-hungry policies which will do immeasurable damage in the longer term.

Poorly thought-out attempts to ‘level the playing field’ between old and new forms of commerce is not the area where post-Brexit Britain should be chasing a world-leading status. Instead, let’s set an example for what a modern, free economy which regulates big tech without being hostile towards it can look like. It’s not too late to keep the Digital Markets Unit’s in-house red tape production line from getting out of hand.

Originally published here.

The impending war with big tech

The last few weeks have seen a substantial ramping up of rhetoric from Westminster towards big tech. Facebook’s dramatic show of power against – and subsequent capitulation to – the Australian government over its new law obliging it to pay news outlets to host their content made for gripping viewing, and it has since become clear that senior ministers across the British government were tuning in to the action.

Matt Hancock came bursting out of the blocks to declare himself a ‘great admirer’ of countries which have proposed laws forcing tech giants to pay for journalism. Rishi Sunak has been bigging-up this year’s G7 summit, which will be held in Cornwall. From the way he is talking, it sounds like he is preparing to lead an army of finance ministers from around the world into battle with Silicon Valley.

Meanwhile, Oliver Dowden, the cabinet minister with responsibility for media and technology, indicated that he has been chatting to his Australian counterparts to learn more about the thinking behind their policymaking process. He followed that up with a series of stark and very public warnings to the businesses themselves,promising to “keep a close eye” on Facebook and Twitter, voicing his “grave concern” over the way big tech companies are operating and threatening sanctions if they step out of line.

This one-way war of words comes against the backdrop of a menacing new regulatory body slowly looming into view. The Digital Markets Unit, a quango which is set to form part of the existing Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), will be the chief weapon in the government’s armoury. As things stand, we know very little about what it is intended to achieve.

Big tech in its current form is a young industry, still struggling with teething problems as it learns how to handle owning all the information in the world. There are plenty of areas where Facebook, Google, Amazon and countless others are arguably falling short in their practices, from users’ privacy to threats to journalists, which Dowden and others have picked up on.

But the natural instinct of state actors to step in has the potential to be cataclysmically damaging. The government is running out of patience with the free market and seems poised to intervene. Countless times, haphazard central policy has quashed innovation and sent private money tumbling out of the country. Against the backdrop of the forthcoming corporation tax rise, there is a fine balance to strike between effective regulation and excessive state interference.

The nature of government interventions is that they block innovation, and therefore progress. Superfluous regulation is like a dazed donkey milling about in the middle of the road, bringing the traffic to a halt. Of course, the donkey is then given a charity collection bucket and the power to oblige passers-by to contribute a slice of their income for the privilege of driving society forwards, generating unfathomable wealth and providing us all with access to free services which have improved our quality of life beyond measure.

As the government ponders the appropriate parameters of the new Digital Markets Unit and seeks to place arbitrary limits on what big tech companies can do for the first time in the history of their existence, it should consider users’ interests first. There is a strong case to be made for shoring up the rights of individuals and cracking down more harshly on abuse and other worrying trends. But let’s not fall into the same trap as our cousins Down Under in making online services more expensive to use and passing those costs down to consumers.

As the much-fabled ‘post-Brexit Global Britain’ begins to take shape, we have a valuable opportunity to set an example for the rest of the world on how to go about regulating the technology giants. The standards we will have to meet to do that are not terribly high. In essence, all the government needs to do is avoid the vast, swinging, ham-fisted meddling which has so often characterised attempts at regulation in the past and Britain can become something of a world leader in this field.

Originally published here.

Will new EU digital regulations lead us to innovation or stagnation?

A recent event organised by the Consumer Choice Center looked at the role the Digital Services and Markets Acts will play in shaping Europe’s digital innovation future.

In December 2020, the European Commission presented the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA). Both are aimed at regulating digital platforms, however, it remains unclear whether they will succeed in boosting innovation in the EU and ensuring fair rules of the game for all participants.

In particular, the DMA puts in place a series of ex-ante restrictions telling tech platforms how to behave and introduces a new “competition tool”. Although noble in its intentions, the worry is that the Act might fail to strike a balance between the need to incentivise European SMEs to innovate while preserving our freedom to choose services delivered by so-called “Big Tech” without excessive burdens.

On 3 March, the Consumer Choice Center hosted a high-level debate on the future of digital innovation in Europe and the role the said acts will play in shaping it. Below are some of the main points raised by our panellists.

“We need to ensure that the DMA doesn’t turn into an anti-American notion. The DMA must not be a protectionist tool used against companies from certain countries, and this is something I will keep an eye on as we move forward with the digital market reform. Digital innovation requires us to stay open, and this is only possible if we cooperate internationally, especially with our democratic partners such as the US. Small players will benefit from this too. However, safeguarding fair competition is pivotal, and that has to be at the centre of our DMA efforts,” said Svenja Hahn, a Member of the European Parliament for Germany (Renew Europe Group).

Eglė Markevičiūtė, Vice Minister at the Ministry of the Economy and Innovation of the Republic of Lithuania, joined the event in her personal capacity to comment on how to improve the alignment on data protection when it comes to the DSA and DMA. “There really is a need for greater flexibility on the enforcement and specific obligations when moving towards a set of criteria that would be applicable over a wide range of platforms and service providers. The goal is not to restrain big online platforms as a source of potential danger but to ensure that consumers as well as small and medium enterprises are protected,” she said.

“Digital innovation requires us to stay open, and this is only possible if we cooperate internationally, especially with our democratic partners such as the US” Svenja Hahn (DE, RE)

“I think the Commission sets out in the DMA to allow platforms to unlock their full potential by harmonising national rules so as to allow end users and business users alike to reap the full benefits of the platform economy and the digital economy at large. What is needed at the EU level is to ensure that harmonisation. To achieve that, I think you have to use objectives and administered rules as you can’t use very subjective or ambiguous standards,” added Kay Jebelli of the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA).

“In the United States we tend to look at things around antitrust or competition using the consumer welfare standard which is basically the question of who’s being harmed. Europe, on the contrary, follows a more precautionary principle that can be summed up as ‘can we get ahead of what we think potential harm might be’, and the American mindset tends to be like ‘why do you want to regulate inefficiency into the system’,” said Shane Tews, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

With the world of technology constantly evolving, it is crucial that the European Union is able to keep up with latest developments, thereby providing European consumers with a wide array of choices.

Originally published here

Pentingnya Perlindungan Hak Kekayaan Intelektual untuk Revolusi Digital

Revolusi digital saat ini merupakan fenomena yang tidak bisa kita pisahkan dari kehidupan kita sehari-hari, khususnya kita yang hidup di kota-kota besar di seluruh dunia. Berbagai teknologi yang dihasilkan oleh revolusi digital, khususnya di bidang teknologi informasi, seperti internet dan smartphone, telah kesehariaan jutaan orang di seluruh dunia untuk melakukan pekerjaan dan kegiatan mereka.

Melalui jaringan internet dan smartphone misalnya kita bisa melakukan berbagai kegiatan sehari-hari dengan lebih mudah, seperti memesan transportasi, penginapan, makanan, hingga mencari navigasi ketika bepergian. Tidak hanya itu, berkat semakin berkembangnya jaringan internet dan teknologi gadget, kita juga semakin mudah dalam mencari pengetahuan, dan bisa mengakses informasi dari seluruh dunia dengan cepat dan terjangkau.

Tidak bisa dipungkiri, perkembangan teknologi yang sangat pesat ini merupakan hal yang tidak diperkirakan oleh banyak orang berdekade-dekade yang lalu. Di masa lalu, hampir semua orang tidak membayangkan bahwa di masa depan, kita bisa memiliki alat multifungsi yang tidak bisa dipisahkan dari keseharian kita, untuk melakukan kegiatan sehari-hari, hingga mengakses informasi dari seluruh dunia.

Perkembangan teknologi secara global, merupakan sesuatu yang tidak bisa kita hentikan. Kemajuan teknologi, termasuk juga revolusi digital, adalah sesuatu yang akan terus berjalan dan berkembang dengan pesat dari tahun ke tahun. Oleh karena itu, agar tidak tertinggal, kita harus mampu bersaing melalui pengembangan ilmu pengetahuan dan meningkatkan inovasi.

Meningkatkan inovasi tentu merupakan sesuatu yang tidak bisa diabaikan agar kita mampu tetap bersaing dan tidak tertinggal dalam bidang revolusi digital. Tanpa adanya inovasi, tentu kita akan semakin tertinggal, dan tidak akan mampu bersaing di dunia yang semakin bergantung pada perkembangan teknologi.

Untuk itu, adanya seperangkat hukum dan kebijakan yang mendorong inovasi untuk meningkatkan daya saing di era digital adalah hal yang sangat penting. Salah satu dari kebijakan tersebut adalah perlindungan terhadap hak kekayaan intelektual, untuk mendorong inovasi yang dilakukan oleh para inovator dan orang-orang yang memiliki kreativitas yang tinggi, yang mencakup berbagai jenis, seperti hak cipta, paten, dan merek (computerweekly.com, 18/4/2018).

Perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual tentu merupakan hal yang sangat penting, terlebih lagi di era digital seperti saat ini. Kemajuan teknologi telah semakin memberi kemudahan bagi setiap orang untuk membajak dan mencuri hasil karya orang lain untuk keuntungannya sendiri. Hal ini tentu akan sangat merugikan para inovator dan orang-orang yang menjadi pembuat karya tersebut, karena mereka tidak mampu mengambil manfaat dari karya yang mereka buat.

Tanpa adanya perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual, insentif seseorang untuk berkreasi dan berinovasi tentu akan semakin berkurang. Dengan demikian, maka kemajuan dan perkembangan teknologi akan semakin terhambat, dan tidak mustahil justru akan membawa kemunduran.

Pentingnya perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual di era digital ini juga merupakan hal yang disampaikan dan diadvokasi oleh banyak pihak, termasuk pejabat tinggi di Indonesia. Salah tsatu pejabat tinggi yang menyatakan hal tersebut adalah Menteri Hukum dan HAM.
Menteri Hukum dan Hak Asasi Manusia, Yasonna Laoly, dalam sesi kuliah umum virtual Pekan Kekayaan Intelektual Universitas Indonesia, menyatakan bahwa “Peran kekayaan intelektual dalam era baru Revolusi Industri 4.0 memiliki posisi yang sangat penting. Kekayaan intelektual sebagai fondasi dari ekonomi kreatif diharapkan dapat menjadi competitive advantage sekaligus pendorong perekonomian nasional,” (AntaraNews.com, 27/11/2020).

Pernyataan yang dikeluarkan oleh Menteri Hukum dan HAM ini tentu merupakan sesuatu yang sangat positif dan harus kita apresiasi. Sebagaimana yang kita ketahui, secara umum, perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual, khususnya yang berkaitan dengan produk-produk digital, masih belum terlalu kuat di Indonesia.

Bila kita pergi ke toko-toko atau pusat perbelanjaan misalnya, dengan mudah kita bisa mendapatkan berbagai produk digital bajakan dengan harga yang sangat murah, Diharapkan, melalui pernyataan yang dikeluarkan oleh Menteri Hukum dan Hak Asasi Manusia tersebut , Pemerintah Indonesia dapat semakin memperbaiki perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual di negara kita, untuk meningkatkan daya saing Indonesia di era revolusi digital saat ini.

Sebagai penutup, pengetahuan dan ide-ide baru yang kreatif merupakan sumber daya yang tidak ternilai bagi ekonomi global di era digital seperti saat ini. Bila kita tidak mampu mengembangkan pengetahuan dan menemukan ide-ide baru yang kreatif, maka kita tidak akan mampu beradaptasi dan bersaing di era revolusi digital saat ini. Untuk itu, adanya seperangkat hukum yang mencegah terjadinya pencurian ide-ide kreatif dalam bentuk hak kekayaan intelektual adalah hal yang sangat penting.

Originally published here.

Twitter Ban shows that the free market works

Big tech’s conservative purge will lead to stricter regulations.

Earlier this month, Twitter banned the personal account of Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) and at the same time limited the official White House account, leaving the President of the United States unable to directly communicate with the nation and its voters on the platform. 

For many conservatives, the move to ban Trump from Twitter after the Capitol riots on January 7, was an assault on freedom of speech and since then, many leaders around the world have also condemned how Twitter handled the situation. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was critical of Twitter for blocking President Donald Trump’s account, considering the ban a threat to free speech. The European commissioner Thierry Breton saw Twitter’s decision as a total break from the past, calling it “the 9/11 moment of social media” in an op-ed published by Politico. Acting Australian Prime Minister Michael McCormack said blocking Trump amounts to censorship. And the French Junior Minister for European Union Affairs Clement Beaune said to Bloomberg that “This should be decided by citizens, not by a CEO.”

Other social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube followed Twitter’s lead and now Trump is banned from virtually every major platform out there, mostly indefinitely. Those who approve of Twitter’s ban of Donald Trump and the purge of thousands of conservative accounts on the platform, like to invoke the mantra that if conservatives think they have been “shut down”, they should also find comfort in the fact that the free market will provide an alternative and competition. However, it’s not that simple.

Social media platforms enjoy a great privilege that not many other companies or sectors do. They make their own rules under their Terms of Service and have total control of their platforms. This extreme power makes it hard for users and companies who feel that they have been unfairly treated to have a diligent due process review of their claims. With nowhere to go to have their voices heard, one last line of defence still stands and stronger than ever: the market.

After the ban of Donald Trump’s accounts, which had over 80 million followers on Twitter, some consumers started to ditch the social media platforms and services that they believe were censoring and targeting conservative speech. Many well known political accounts, such as James Woods reportedly lost over 7 thousand followers in 48 hours and the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, lost 45,000 followers. Even more centrist political accounts as Dave Rubin reported a drop of over 35 thousand followers on Twitter. Republican lawmakers also lost thousands of followers. According to USA Today, about 42% of the accounts – 213 – had fewer followers on Jan. 13 than they did on Jan. 6. The vast majority of those accounts –200 – belonged to Republicans. As a result, the next week, Twitter stocks plummeted more than 10%. Facebook fell 4% to $256.84, Alphabet stock was down 2.2% to $1,766.72, and Amazon stock dropped 2.2%, to $3,114.21.

The market reacted this way because large tech companies are alienating users by directly excluding accounts and because people are simply leaving the platforms all together for alternatives such as Gab and RumbleParler was a popular alternative for Twitter but was wiped off the internet last week after both Apple and Google remove the app from their stores and Amazon decided not to host the website on their AWS servers. 

Most of today’s social media platforms are free because they collect data about their users every day, from location to website searches, even fingerprinting all your devices. Those pieces of information are sold to advertisers who cater to your interests.  As we have written, this practice is both innovative and helps support the social media networks we use. However, the business model is not sustainable if tech companies are not able to gather updated information about their users, or worse, if the consumers the advertisers are looking to reach are not on their platforms anymore. 

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, whose company’s share plumed the most this week, seems to have realized this the hard way. His strategy may have backlashed as now, millions of conservative consumers are out on the internet, without a home, and desperately looking for a new place to be heard and speak freely. He acknowledged last week that banning Trump from Twitter “sets a precedent I feel is dangerous: the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation.”

Tech companies should be aware that even though they enjoy a privileged position now, this might not last for long. The European Commission, for example, has introduced two proposals that would place more restraints on digital giants. The first, is the Digital Markets Act, the centerpiece of Europe’s digital plans aimed at boosting online competition in a world dominated by Silicon Valley. The second is the Digital Services Act aimed to limit the spread of illegal content and goods online, making online platforms responsible for the spread of such content. Other countries might also try to regulate digital services in a way that would be prejudicial to tech companies and most importantly, to consumer choice. Poland, for instance, plans to make censoring of social media accounts illegal: “algorithms or the owners of corporate giants should not decide which views are right and which are not,” wrote the prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki on Facebook last week.

For now, a free market is still the most powerful way in which consumers can have a voice and make their choices clear. This might change in the future, but it’s comforting to know that even when governments fail, consumers and private companies can count on the power of supply and demand. And if you ask me, I wouldn’t change it for anything else.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn


Originally published here.

Facebook Breakup will harm consumers

Breaking up and regulating tech companies will harm consumers, not serve them.

The recent uptick in downloads of privacy-focused messaging apps such as Signal and Telegram is a great testament to the power of consumer choice in the digital sphere. It should deal a heavy blow to the attempts of breaking up or regulating WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook as the market is quite evidently not dominated by one monopoly. Moreover, intrusion into private companies will ultimately result in stifling consumer choice, and thus, should be abstained from.

Today’s consumers and developers have far greater power than ever before. No company is spared from the continuous battle over users as switching to a competitor in the tech world takes a few clicks and an app store. A great number of tools and services are at constant disposal for anyone, who is looking for a better solution to his individual problem.

Given these market dynamics, app creators are incentivised to create solutions for every niche problem to satisfy their target user group, compete in a global market, and scale their solution worldwide. Some apps may access your data to provide a better service by analysing usage patterns. Others may protect your privacy but compromise on another feature. The ability to choose between these options (or to use both for different use cases!) constitutes a consumer choice paradise rather than a monopoly worth regulating.

Furthermore, interfering in markets by breaking up companies or regulating them seldom comes at no cost. Any infringement harms innovation and reduces investment.

Facebook, for instance, purchased Instagram and WhatsApp for $1 billion and $19 billion, respectively. Although both had an existing user base, neither was generating large sums of revenue before being taken over. There is simply no telling if without investments in innovation from their new parent company, those services would have generated any long term profits and delivered the services to their users that they love today.

Retroactively, turning back the clock would set a dangerous precedent for any company that wants to invest in creating superior experiences for their user-base and show that no investment is safe from regulators. The price for innovating to enrich all of our lives would be an uncertain return on investment. The ultimate victim of over-regulating a naturally liberal market: consumers.

Fears of harming innovation as a consequence of overzealous regulators are not purely theoretical. The effort to split Microsoft’s software and operating system from another in the early 2000s did little to liberate markets. Rather, it inhibited the company that developed the most popular operating system from innovating by dragging them into the courtroom for pre-installing the Internet Explorer on Windows machines.

In the end, no regulators were necessary to decide on behalf of consumers. As more browsers naturally emerged, consumers replaced Internet Explorer as the most popular browser regardless of it being delivered out of the box. However, there is no telling how much damage has been done to Microsoft and users alike by the regulatory efforts to destroy a company simply because of its success.

Today’s efforts even go beyond break up fantasies. Another favoured approach by lawmakers across the globe is imposing interoperability, ordering messaging services to communicate with each other to lower barriers of entry. On first sight, the idea makes sense: let users choose their preferred service and allow them to communicate with anyone regardless of their preferred option. Unfortunately however, interoperability will also only harm consumers.

Interoperability necessitates common standards. Emails for example are interoperable as you can communicate with anyone regardless of their provider. The standard may have been the gold standard a few decades ago. But by today’s standards emails are not secure, they are not user friendly, and there have been no significant improvements to the protocols for decades. Similarly, text messages are interoperable, which is hardly a plus as they are simply inferior to messaging apps. 

Absent any regulation, developers can tailor these apps to their users, introduce new features, and innovate to win users. This liberty to innovate is why freely available apps provide the safest way to communicate that has ever existed by superior encryption standards. It also allowed millions of users to switch to an alternative app last week, seeking conditions that are not standardised by law and more applicable to them.

Any governmental effort to define these encryption standards, as would be necessary to allow for interoperability, would also make it easier to break these privacy seals that consumers desperately desire.  Lawmakers need to understand that their actions are not providing value to consumers. Neither breaking up so-called monopolies nor imposing arbitrary regulations is in the interest of their people. Consumers are more than capable of making their own choices. Millions of them have done so in the past week as they did not agree with a new policy imposed on them by WhatsApp.

Kya Shoar is a Digital and Tech Fellow at the Consumer Choice Center.

Latest round of online deplatforming shows why we need increased competition and decentralization

Another week means another politically-charged rampage of deplatforming of social media profiles and entire social media networks.

Following the storming of the U.S. Capitol by some of his supporters, President Trump was promptly suspended from Twitter and Facebook and later dozens of Internet services including Shopify and Twitch.

Even the image-sharing site Pinterest, famous for recipes and DIY project presentations, has banned Trump and any mention of contesting the 2020 Election. He’ll have to go without sourdough recipes and needlework templates once he’s out of office.

Beyond Trump, entire social media networks have also been put in the crosshairs following the troubling incursion on Capitol Hill. The conservative platform Parler, a refuge for social media dissidents, has since had its app pulled from the Google and Apple stores and had their hosting servers suspended by Amazon’s web service company AWS.

This pattern of removing unsavory profiles or websites isn’t just a 2021 phenomenon. The whistleblower website Wikileaks – whose founder Julian Assange remains in prison without bail in the UK awaiting extradition to the United States – was similarly removed from Amazon’s servers in 2012, as well as blacklisted by Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, and their DNS provider. Documents reveal both public and private pressure by then U.S. senator and Intelligence Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman was instrumental in choking Wikileaks off from these services.

Then it was politicians pressuring companies to silence a private organization. Now, it’s private organizations urging companies to silence politicians.

However the pendulum swings, it’s entirely reasonable for companies that provide services to consumers and institutions to respond quickly to avoid risk. Whether it’s due to governmental decree or public backlash, firms must respond to incentives that ensure their success and survival.

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Gab, or Parler, they can only exist and thrive if they fulfill the wishes and demands of their users, and increasingly to the political and social pressures placed on them by a cacophony of powerful forces.

It’s an impossible tightrope.

It is clear that many of these companies have and will continue to make bad business decisions based on either politics or perception of bias. They are far from perfect.

The only true way we can ensure a healthy balance of information and services provided by these companies to their consumers is by promoting competition and decentralization.

Having diverse alternative services to host servers, provide social networks, and allow people to communicate remains in the best interest of all users and consumers.

Such a mantra is difficult to hold in today’s hostile ideological battleground inflated by Silicon Valley, Washington, and hostile actors in Bejing and Moscow, but it is necessary.

In the realm of policy, we should be wary of proposed solutions that aim to cut off some services at the expense of others.

Repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, for example, would be incredibly harmful to users and firms alike. If platforms become legally liable for user content, it would essentially turn innovative tech companies into risk-averting insurance companies that occasionally offer data services. That would be terrible for innovation and user experience.

And considering the politically charged nature of our current discourse, anyone could find a reason to cancel you or an organization you hold dear – meaning you’re more at risk for being deplatformed.

At the same time, axing Section 230 would empower large firms and institutions that already have the resources to manage content policing and legal issues at scale, locking out many start-ups and aspiring competitors who otherwise would have been able to thrive.

When we think of the towering power of Big Tech and Big Government, some things can be true all at the same time. It can be a bad idea to use antitrust law to break up tech firms as it will deprive consumers of choice, just as these companies are guilty of making bad business decisions that will hurt their user base. How we respond to that will determine how consumers will continue to be able to use online services going forward.

All the while, every individual Internet user and organization has it in their power to use competitive and diverse services. Anyone can start up an instance of Mastodon (as I have done), a decentralized micro-blogging service, host a private web server on a Raspberry Pi (coming soon), or accept Bitcoin rather than credit cards.

Thanks to competition and innovation, we have consumer choice. The question is, though, if we’re courageous enough to use them.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center.

New digital regulations: the good and the bad

Last month, the European Commission presented the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act. The regulatory framework that has been long in the making aims to prevent and punish anti-competitive behaviours across digital platforms, in particular, those with at least 45 million users.

Although the introduction of these new regulations as such was a historic moment for EU digital policy, the very nature of this new approach is punitive and its unintended consequences might curb innovation instead of enhancing it.

The European Commission’s goal to keep big tech giants at bay has become obvious long ago when antitrust investigations into Facebook and Amazon started to build up. The witchhunt after anti-competitive actions has been the result of the European Union’s lack of knowledge about these new platforms and how their supply chains operate.

For example, using his Twitter account, Dutch MEP Paul Tang categorised the European Parliament’s vote against targeted advertising as a “win”, further adding that “We see that big tech continues to expand their market power by considering personal data as a commodity. In addition to interfering with our privacy, such a revenue model is unhealthy and sickening for the internet.” These policy remedies would end up being harmful to both consumers and small businesses, and dumb down the greatly innovative tech sector that provides value to users across Europe.

Digital Markets Act introduced a series of ex-ante restrictions that will tell big platforms on how to behave and by introducing a new competition tool.

Several factors need to be considered in order for these developments to be fair and less damaging than they have the potential to be. First, ex antre regulations should be limited to large online platforms that qualify as gatekeepers and shouldn’t discriminate between them. However, considering that the world of technology is constantly evolving and the economy as such is going to change, it is crucial that ex-ante regulations are concise and straightforward, and flexible.

A smart approach, and the one we advocate for, would be to strike a balance between the need to safeguard competition and remaining liberal enough to not block innovation. A code of conduct that would lay out specific blacklisted practices without making the costs of compliance excessively high for gatekeepers and preserving consumer choice might be as close as we can ever get to a compromise.

The European Union’s digital lag is well-known, and if we put even more brakes on our digital economy, we might find ourselves in the back of the queue for economic wellbeing. The key narrative of the EU digital reform shouldn’t be “let’s punish the big tech for its success” but rather “let’s create the favourable conditions for smaller enterprises”. Granting the Commission large-scale investigation powers would be an extremely dangerous move that will likely only increase the number of costly antitrust proceedings without boosting innovation.

Although transparency is equally important, its pursuits shouldn’t lead us beyond the pale. The very fact that digital platforms bring value to Europeans is a clear indication that they do something right, and that should be enough for the Commission to form its judgment. Unmatched demand for digital services, including those provided by the big tech, speaks for itself.

The best way to approach the newly presented digital framework is to be realistic about its unintended consequences. Our goal should be innovation, not punishment.

Originally published here.

Let’s be realistic about new digital regulations

Today, the European Commission will present a regulatory framework that will determine the future of the European digital economy for the years to come.

Both the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act aim to prevent and punish anti-competitive behaviours across digital platforms, in particular, those with at least 45 million users. Although that is indeed a historic moment for EU digital policy, it is expected that the very nature of these new regulations will be punitive and its unintended consequences might curb innovation instead of enhancing it.

The European Commission’s goal to keep big tech giants at bay has become obvious long ago when antitrust investigations into Facebook and Amazon started to build up. The witchhunt after anti-competitive actions has been the result of the European Union’s lack of knowledge about these new platforms and how their supply chains operate.

Digital Markets Act will attempt to solve this problem through a series of ex-ante restrictions that will tell big platforms how to behave and by introducing a new competition tool.

Several factors need to be considered in order for these developments to be fair and less damaging than it seems at first glance. First, ex ante regulations should be limited to large online platforms that qualify as gatekeepers and shouldn’t discriminate between them. However, keeping in mind, that the world of technology is constantly evolving and the economy as such is going to change, it is crucial that ex-ante regulations are concise and straightforward, and flexible.

A smart approach would be to strike a balance between the need to safeguard competition and remaining liberal enough to not block innovation. A code of conduct that would lay out specific blacklisted practices without making the costs of compliance excessively high for gatekeepers and preserving consumer choice might be as close as we can ever get to a compromise.

The European Union’s digital lag is well-known, and if we put even more brakes on our digital economy, we might find ourselves in the back of the queue for economic wellbeing. The key narrative of the EU digital reform shouldn’t be “let’s punish the big tech for its success” but rather “let’s create the favourable conditions for smaller enterprises”. Granting the Commission large-scale investigation powers would be an extremely dangerous move that will likely only increase the number of costly antitrust proceedings without boosting innovation.

Contrary to widely spread belief, lock-ins are all too often a conscious choice made by consumers in the absence of a viable alternative. Therefore, we should make it easier for small business to enter and for the existing ones to operate on equal terms with the more successful ones. We need a digital single market that can meet the needs of
European consumers without any external interference.

Although transparency is equally important, its pursuits shouldn’t lead us beyond the pale and turn the Commission into an honesty tribunal. The very fact that digital platforms bring value to Europeans is a clear indication that they do something right,and that should be enough for the Commission to form its judgment. Unmatched demand for digital services, including those provided by the big tech, speaks for itself.

The best way to approach today’s presentation of the new digital framework is to be realistic about its unintended consequences. Our goal should be innovation, not punishment.

Originally published here.

Why Europe needs radical digital reform

EU attempts to curtail the influence of the world’s digital giants are stymying innovation, argues the Consumer Choice Center’s Maria Chaplia.

Amazon will soon face antitrust proceedings to address concerns raised by EU authorities regarding the company’s access and use of data. Specifically, they claim the American company can see sensitive commercial information on third-party products such as price or volume. Amazon’s actions would qualify as anti-competitive if the EU finds that it has been using this data to improve the ranking of its own products.

Regardless of the outcome of this investigation into abusive, monopolistic behaviour, the EU will come out as a loser if it does not undertake a radical digital reform to liberalise its digital single market. In the face of digital competitors from abroad, it has become convenient to pull out antitrust laws in response to every tech issue. But such an approach has neither made the EU more innovation-friendly nor more mindful of actual consumer needs.

Instead of letting digital services of all types develop at their own pace, the EU has relegated itself to passing legislation that is far from technology-neutral. According to EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s current regulations were put in place “when no one could have foreseen the situation we’re in today, that platforms would not just be channels, but full ecosystems where a lot of what is ongoing is monetised by the platform itself.” There was, of course, no way to predict what has happened, but it’s a poor justification for the EU’s digital lag.

Regulators, though with noble intentions, are simply unable to know ahead of time how far innovation can and will go. What they can do, instead, is create and sustain a framework that does not pick winners and losers, but safeguards intellectual property rights, keeps taxation low to encourage returns, limits barriers to entry, and makes investment easy.

In Europe, there are many outdated laws that make it burdensome to create new and innovative digital services before they ever hit the market. One example is the lack of a European-wide license for audiovisual services, forcing service providers to apply in every Member State if they want to show their content. It is the same for most other digital services in the EU, including music streaming or news collection.

“If the EU succumbs once more to antitrust legislation, it will come at the expense of future innovation and risk cutting off millions of European consumers from vital digital services”

Another key issue concerns taxation. The EU has long considered levying a tax of between two and six percent on the local revenues of platform giants. The prospect of trade talks with the US has brought this topic back into the spotlight. However, an EU-wide digital tax would limit potential future innovation. Innovators should be able to choose between high-taxed and low-taxed locations, not be faced with a uniform unavoidable tax. Complicated issues – such as the EU’s digital lag – require complex solutions according to officials, but that’s not the case. Less intervention means more innovation. Antitrust lawsuits and actions are a great tool for tax collecting but they don’t solve the core problem. We need a digital market that has many different options to choose from, making it less likely that one company can gain a monopoly as it will be more preoccupied with actual competition, and thus seek to come up with innovative solutions for consumers.

If the EU engages once more in antitrust proceedings, it will come at the expense of future innovation and risk cutting off millions of European consumers from vital digital services. We need reform and liberalisation in order to better provide for both consumers and producers.

Originally published here.

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