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Tech companies ponder regulation

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 28 January 2020, 9:15 pm

You might think that regulation was a dirty word for global tech companies, but apparently not. They are clamouring to be regulated according to news reports, with Wall Street Journal summing it up with a headline today: 'Tech Giants' New Appeal to Governments: Please Regulate Me.'

"Their push (Alphabet/Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple et al) to join in the policy debate, which was on display at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, is motivated in part by a sense that a wave of new regulation is inevitable. Top executives want to help steer the outcome as much as possible, and many also fear the impact of a patchwork of laws around the world," the article reads.

Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai has been outspoken on the need to regulate AI, although "the question is how best to approach this" (isn't it always?). While Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says issues of national importance (for example encryption) shouldn't be the preserve of CEOs - referring to Apple's latest stoush with the US authorities over a request to unlock the iPhones of an alleged shooter at an incident Florida Naval base, in which three people were killed.

While the giants of tech have the resources to ensure their voice is heard, smaller tech companies are worried about the 'unintended consequences' of regulation, and how it might impact their business models.

"There is a huge danger of a little company like mine getting lost in regulation and the big guys entrenching their position," says Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck.

There is also the issue of whether politicians charged with bringing in regulation understand enough about technology to make informed decisions - and that applies as much in the United States as in New Zealand.

Meanwhile, PwC in its annual CEO survey, released in time for Davos, notes that CEOs globally are divided over whether government legislation will splinter the internet.

It asked them to consider the question: "Thinking about the future (2022 and beyond), please select the statement that you believe is more likely to occur. The internet (including social media) will increasingly become more fractured (orange) as governments apply their own legislation about content, commerce and privacy, or less fractured (yellow)."

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It's interesting that New Zealand CEOs are more convinced that regulation has the potential to divide the internet, than the entire global group - which is evenly split.


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Graham Harris 02 February 2020, 4:19 pm

Above all, companies look for certainty from the regulatory environment. The threat of unknown future regulations causes them to hold back on investment.

Next in their priority, is being able to drive the regulation process in their favour- preferably pulling up the ladder into their treehouse.

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