Effective technology regulation must engage with the internet rather than trying to fight it – with a “new deal” needed for policymakers to address the challenges posed by big tech, a new report from former prime minister Tony Blair says this week.
The Tony Blair Institute’s New Deal for Big Tech report says tech companies have enormous power, but often wield it without sufficient legitimacy. It says that policy needs to align private incentives with the wider public interest.
“We’ve got a regulatory system designed for one age and we’re living in a different age altogether,” Blair said as he unveiled the report at the WiredLive event in London this week.
The themes in the Blair report reflect those at last month’s DigitalAgenda Power & Responsibility Summit. Ideas emerging from that summit will feature in a new green paper later this month.
The report analyses the economics of internet-based businesses, explores the economic and cultural trade-offs that arise, and proposes a new approach to regulation for the largest tech companies.
It argues that to get past the techlash, we need “a proper dialogue” about how big tech companies can uphold the values of liberal democracies.
“With some of these companies now the largest on the planet, their influence requires a more mature and responsible approach. Mistakes have been made, and the power of technology has become too concentrated in the hands of too few,” Blair says in the report.
“But the policy response being suggested by populists of both left and right, which is one either of knee-jerk reaction or of rash opportunism, should be rejected. Instead, we need a fresh approach that makes these firms more accountable and more transparent to consumers but does not erode their ability to innovate.”
The report sets out three key priorities:
- ensure tech companies take their responsibilities seriously
- ensure consumers understand the technology in their lives
- rewrite obsolete rules and regulations for the internet age.
Blair warned that the rapid progress of China on Ai meant that greater international co-operation on tech regulation was needed. He called for a new ‘transatlantic alliance for technology’ that would see parallel regulators in the US and EU, “with the remit of rewriting the rules of the internet age”.
Also on stage at Wired was Doteveryone founder Martha Lane Fox. On the Blair call she tweeted that “@doteveryoneuk agrees but thinks an office for responsible technology is more appropriate”.
Blair, Labour prime minister for 10 years from 1997, established his institute to look at “the most difficult challenges in the world today”, including an agenda for renewing the political centre ground with policy solutions.
The institute’s 2017 report, Technology for the Many, set out challenges and opportunities for government in the face of rapid technological change.