UK calls for “online harms” regulator to police “misinformation”

British authorities were just recently caught acting with what seemed like utter disregard towards their legal obligation to perform “due diligence” of sorts, regarding how private data may be affected (as in, abused) when fed into the Covid-19 Test and Trace program.

Moreover, the relevant regulator, Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) – that is supposed to oversee and guarantee that this process is seen through – came up with a bizarre statement about not necessarily being the competent body to do that, instead saying it was the government’s “critical friend providing guidance.”

In this confusing regulatory climate, it seems odd for MPs to press for yet another, this time “online harms” regulator to be appointed – to fight the elusive and poorly and broadly defined phenomenon of online misinformation.

If the ICO is anything to go by, that new regulator could prove to be a waste of government time and taxpayer money. On the other hand, perhaps there is a selective sense of regulatory and legal responsibility, and perhaps the topic of online misinformation will in fact be taken much more seriously than the topic of private data safety.

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It is the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport that is now calling for an online harms regulator to be appointed as misinformation around Covid-19 is supposedly spreading like wildfire, allegedly causing actual harm.

Looks like another initiative destined to draw the ire of digital and privacy groups for representing censorship by any other name.

MPs who propose and defend it, however, say that tech companies need to be tightly regulated from the outside.

“The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated that without due weight of the law, social media companies have no incentive to consider a duty of care to those who use their services,” said chairman of a Department’s committee that is putting forward the proposal, Julian Knight.

It’s the usual litany of complaints about social media and other dominant tech giants still not living up to the narrative that authorities around the world are setting before them as the goal – even though – they do try.

But as per usual, none of these complaints go to the heart of the problem. And that’s data collection, abuse, and the ad business model that’s behind these behemoths and their objectively massive power. So, regardless of who gets to dictate the terms of what’s acceptable, everyday users and their free speech seem bound to suffer.

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