Big issues still to tackle in 2022: What price privacy?

data laws 2In the second of our series re-examining the industry’s “big issues to tackle in 2017” we look at data protection, digital and privacy legislation to see what progress – if any – has been made.

Back then, it was all about the looming GDPR; even though it was still 18 months away. Five years on and the UK Government is now planning to go its own way on data laws in post-Brexit Britain.

Having plucked victory from the jaws of defeat by securing the much-lauded data protection adequacy agreement with Brussels to allow the continued free flow of data from across the EU to the UK, a new consultation aims to remove what ministers see as the draconian elements of GDPR.

The move coincides with confirmation that New Zealand privacy commissioner John Edwards is to be the new UK Information Commissioner to succeed Elizabeth Denham. However, when he starts in January, the role will change so he can be “empowered to encourage the responsible use of data to achieve economic and social goals”.

Not that everyone is best pleased. Privacy organisation the Open Rights Group claims the reforms will not only strip UK consumers of most of their privacy rights, they will create a jungle where big tech and rogue businesses will be free to harass everyone in the name of growth and innovation.

Even the Information Commissioner’s Office has waded in, insisting that plans to give the Secretary of State the power to approve or reject ICO codes of practice and guidance, would not only undermine the regulator’s independence, but could damage public trust and even trigger more legal challenges.

Both charity and public sector organisations have also urged the Government to be more cautious about its plans.

The second draft, set to be published in the first quarter of 2022, is eagerly awaited to say the least.

There are also plans afoot to bring the tech giants to heel through the UK’s landmark Online Safety Bill. Originally unveiled in May to criticism it did not go far enough, a new Parliamentary report aims to tackle that by demanding far tighter rules to combat an industry that has become the “land of the lawless”.

As chair and Conservative MP Damian Collins said: “A lack of regulation online has left too many people vulnerable to abuse, fraud, violence and in some cases even loss of life.

“What’s illegal offline should be regulated online. For too long, big tech has gotten away with being the land of the lawless…. the era of self-regulation for big tech has come to an end.”

One of the key changes being demanded is that the legislation should cover scam advertising. The other recommendations of the report include an explicit duty for all porn sites to make sure children cannot access them and the stamping out of the potential harmful impact of algorithms.

The report also calls for a wide range of new criminal offences, based on proposals from the Law Commission, including promoting or “stirring up” violence against women, or based on gender or disability; knowingly distributing seriously harmful misinformation; and content “promoting self-harm” should be made illegal as should “cyber-flashing”.

Meanwhile, the Government is also setting up a new UK “super-regulator”, which will see data protection, telecoms, competition and financial services watchdogs work hand in hand.

The tongue-twisting combination of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the Office of Communications (Ofcom), and the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) Ofcom, formed the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF) in July 2020.

The DRCF workplan for 2021/22 sets out a “roadmap” for how the separate watchdogs will pool expertise and resources, work more closely together on online regulatory matters of mutual importance, and report on results annually.

Whether these initiatives will be enough to loosen the vice-like grip of US tech giants on business remains to be seen, but most commentators agree the so-called FAANGS – Facebook (now Meta), Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google – cannot be allowed to carry on regardless.

Interestingly, according to a Chartered Institute of Marketing study, most marketers say they would also welcome stricter regulation of the advertising industry, with just 26% of professionals reckoning the current regulatory regime is fit for purpose.

The proof, as ever, will be in the pudding…

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