miércoles, 29 de mayo de 2019

The needed temporary status of self-regulation

Although we seen Internet as a massive service as quite recent and young, the truth is that its story goes back nearly thirty years old. The network and its services have evolved so quickly that even for those who lived the first years is difficult some times to appreciate how things have changed. Only for that reason is good to read books such as "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism", the one I´m currently reading. In particular, such a reading is good to discover the reasons why things have gone wrong in some aspects of how Internet is nowadays.

Without any doubt, the most hated feature of internet services is the eager for capturing our personal data. Certainly, the EU regulation such as RGPD has curtailed this trend, but things would be better for our privacy if the US would have a similar regulation. We see the later as an almost impossible event and some blame the different regulatory tradition of privacy of the situation. Nevertheless, the reason is completely different. As the author of the book mentioned above remember us, privacy was on the way of being strongly regulated before 9/11 happened, but the hangover of the worst terrorist attack ever in US soil changed everything. After the attack, the invasion of privacy by digital platforms began to be see as a useful tool for national security and everything on the US institutions rapidly forget the idea of a regulation. Obviously, platforms grasped the opportunity and went further on this area. Obviously, the platforms also quickly forget the self-regulation promises on the matter.

The lesson to be learnt of what happened is never to lose an opportunity to do the right thing on the regulation of digital platforms.

One of the most worrisome issues around digital platforms nowadays is their collaboration on spreading disinformation, particularly through target ads. After the evidence of the usage of this tool in some elections and referendums, the European Commission has tried to curve their use in the elections for the European Parliament. However, instead of passing a regulation the European Commission asked for voluntary measures from the platforms and a periodical review of their effectiveness. And apparently, things have worked.

Probably, now the temptation may be leave things as they are. That would be an error, now it´s the time to develop a regulation based on the lessons learnt instead of trusting that the self-regulations introduced will continue to work in the future. The sad tendency of human beings is to stop a voluntary costly behaviour when no one is looking. Therefore, we can expect that platforms would stop applying the non compulsory rules on place as soon as there´s no one watching thoroughly, and if you need to maintain your vigilance it would be better to do with the back of an actual regulation.

Self-regulation maybe a good temporary solution, but never a perpetual situation. If you have the evidences to regulate better take the opportunity to do it after you have tested the self-regulation measures for a while. Not taking the adecquate measures on the right time is certainly the door to future laments.

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