Open a newspaper any time in the last few months and you’ll have seen the headlines. Amid the excitement, good and promise of all that technology can bring, there’s also a groundswell of mistrust. Fears about the ease with which harm can be spread via social media, snooping and worries about work in an increasingly automated world. And that harm can be tragically real, especially for young people. Addressing online harms and restoring trust in the technology we use every day must be a top priority – and a shared responsibility.
With the publication of the government’s Internet Safety whitepaper just around the corner, businesses want to embrace this once-in-a-generation opportunity to find an approach that both protects people from harm and helps support the UK’s flourishing digital economy.
Digital technologies can be a force for good, so part of the answer will be separating fact from fiction. One myth to tackle head on is that the internet is not regulated – it absolutely is. There are a whole host of government organisations that regulate the internet from upholding consumer rights to child safety. All with the power to take down content, report and charge a person with an offence.
Look too at the Internet Matters campaign which has already invested millions to help make the internet safer. Or the Internet Watch Foundation which works with over 130 companies to remove harmful online content. They currently assess over 1,000 webpages per week, looking out for harmful content and removing it in less than 2 hours. As direct result of their work, abusive content has reduced from 18% in 1996 to below 1% today. So there are plenty of foundations to build on. But the truth is that the challenges are intensifying and the pace of change increasing.
Industry action alone is unlikely to be enough to restore trust and solve the problem of harm online. We can anticipate a future of greater oversight and regulation.
We can ignore that fact, we can resist. Or we can do something a little bolder – anticipate it, work with it and shape it. CBI members across the technology, media and telecoms sectors are behind this. They understand that if we get this right, the UK can lead the world in finding the right balance between freedom and oversight, checks and flexibility.
The white paper must be a consultation in the truest sense. Not pre-judged and everything must be on the table – from both sides. Firms accept that further action is needed. That’s a good thing. But badly designed regulation wouldn’t just undermine these industries, it would fast become obsolete.
Any new policies must be evidenced, proportionate and adaptable if they are to be effective and endure. A key test for us at the CBI will be whether they deliver something the rest of the world wants to replicate. The government’s white paper could be an ideal opportunity to define the debate – it should be gripped firmly with both hands.