Tech firms should have ‘duty of care’ imposed on them, says House of Lords committee

News, Social Media

Technology companies are “failing” to regulate themselves, a new report by a House of Lords committee says.  The Communications Committee believes a new central authority to co-ordinate regulators and protect the public online should be formed.

Its report – Regulating in a Digital World – recommends the creation of a new Digital Authority to oversee the regulation of large tech firms, which it says should be guided by ten principles, including transparency and respect for privacy.

The report is the latest in a string of publications from lawmakers and industry experts calling for more powers to reprimand internet and social media companies about properly handling personal data of users and remove illicit material in good time.

It says internet companies should have a duty of care imposed upon them, with responsibility for enforcing it handed to broadcasting and telecoms regulator Ofcom.

The committee also calls for online platforms to make their community standards clearer by adopting a classification framework, similar to that of the British Board of Film Classification.

“The Government should not just be responding to news headlines but looking ahead so that the services that constitute the digital world can be held accountable to an agreed set of principles.
Chairman of the committee, Lord Gilbert of Panteg.

“Self-regulation by online platforms is clearly failing and the current regulatory framework is out of date. The evidence we heard made a compelling and urgent case for a new approach to regulation,” said Lord Gilbert.

“Without intervention, the largest tech companies are likely to gain ever more control of technologies which extract personal data and make decisions affecting people’s lives.

“Our proposals will ensure that rights are protected online as they are offline while keeping the internet open to innovation and creativity, with a new culture of ethical behaviour embedded in the design of service.”

The committee also recommends users be given greater control over when and how their personal data is collected, and that annual data transparency statements should be made a requirement.

The Government is expected to publish a White Paper featuring legislative plans to more strictly regulate companies such as Facebook and Google.

Facebook has previously stated it is open to working with the Government on regulation.

The Lords Communications Committee said regulation of online service should be built around ten principles, including parity in protections offered online and offline, accountability, transparency and openness.

The report also named privacy, ethical design, recognition of childhood, respect for human rights and equality, education and awareness-raising and democratic accountability, proportionality and an evidence-based approach as principles that should guide the development of regulation.

Last month, a Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee report said social media platforms were behaving like “digital gangsters” and should be forced to comply with a regulated code of ethics to tackle harmful or illegal content on their sites.

Chris Price
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