‘Super-regulator’ puts TikTok, AI and adtech on notice

data_security2The new UK “super-regulator”, which will see data protection, telecoms, competition and financial services watchdogs work hand in hand, has vowed to put video-sharing platforms including TikTok, adtech systems and artificial intelligence among its key priorities as it strives to tackle the burgeoning digital market.

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 Financial Conduct Authority will join the DRCF from next month, with the new organisation outlining its priorities for the coming year, marking what is claimed to be a “step-change” in regulation across digital and online services.

The Government claims that these organisations already have strong working relationships, but the forum was established to ensure an even greater level of cooperation, given the unique challenges posed by regulation of online platforms.

With online services playing an ever-more central role in consumers’ lives, and the digital landscape developing at breakneck speed, especially since the Covid pandemic struck, ministers concede there is a need for a more coherent, coordinated and clear regulatory approach – for the good of Internet users and the companies who serve them.

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.

Since the DRCF was formed, there have been several major developments demanding regulator attention in the emerging digital and online landscape.

For example, the UK Government confirmed that Ofcom will oversee and enforce a new duty of care for online harms. It also announced that the Digital Markets Unit (DMU) will be established in the CMA to oversee its new pro-competition regime. Additionally, this year, the ICO’s new Age-Appropriate Design Code will come into effect.

The roadmap sets out how, through the DRCF, the UK will coordinate its regulatory approach in the coming year, focusing on three priority areas.

First, it has pledged to launch joint projects on what it deems “complex, cross-cutting issues”. The CMA has already published new research on algorithms, showing how they can reduce competition in digital markets and harm consumers if they are misused. This research and any feedback on it will inform the future work of the DRCF.

Other projects will include research artificial intelligence; adtech; end-to-end encryption; and service design frameworks.

Second, it will develop joined-up regulatory approaches to tackle the different regulatory regimes for digital which interlink and overlap. Where this occurs, the DRCF insists it will develop approaches for ensuring a coherent regulatory approach.

Areas of focus this year will be on the interrelation between data protection and competition regulation, and the Age-Appropriate Design Code and the regulation of video-sharing platforms and online harms.

Finally, the organisations will work together to build their collective technical and analytical capabilities and explore operational models to support more efficient skills and expertise sharing in the future. This might include, for example, building cross-regulator specialist teams the DRCF said.

Ofcom chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes commented: “Online services are fundamental to how we interact with the world around us. And we want to ensure that people continue to enjoy the many benefits that these innovative platforms and technologies offer, while having peace of mind that they’re protected against the possible harms and risks.

“As we ready ourselves to take on new responsibilities to regulate online safety, today’s action plan sets out how, through the DRCF, we will strengthen our ties with the CMA and the ICO. Together we will drive a coherent approach to online regulation – for the good of Internet users and the companies that serve them.”

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