Oct 17

Curb your enthusiasm for hi-tech giant-killing: start with transparency

Demands to regulate hi-tech companies like Google, Facebook and Apple are being heard at deafening pitch almost every day. This rush by the political herd on both sides of the Atlantic to make new laws (or to enforce the breakup of these corporations) is no better focussed or thought-out than the extraordinary degree of latitude which the same political classes were prepared to allow the same online platforms only a couple of years ago.

The cry for regulation and the laissez-faire inertia of the recent past have a common origin: ignorance. The cure for ignorance is knowledge. And knowledge of exactly what these companies do and don’t do must be the foundation of any further action to get them to shoulder their moral and civic responsibilities. If laws are needed to prevent harm, let them first compel transparency. Any politician pushing that line has my vote.

When Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook rejected claims of Russian online interference in the US presidential election as ‘pretty crazy’, he was either lying or ignorant of what had been happening on Facebook. He has of course admitted he was wrong since (awesomely well-researched narrative by Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic here).

But suppose that Facebook is open to inspection by national agencies or commissions which supervise elections. That would not necessarily mean open to public inspection, but perhaps to bodies whose duty is to check electoral fairness and compliance with the law. Why would that be so hard?

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Mar 10

News wants to be…valuable

You’ve seen the text, now read the movie: video of my lecture here.

I was going to post about the experience of being tweeted live during a lecture, but I’m going to divert to relay one or two of the most interesting comments on my lecture theme that journalists have to sharpen the definition of what they do if it’s to be recognised as valuable in a world in which previous news media business models are foundering.

First up is Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, media editor of the Financial Times, who took an original swing at the paywall issue in an edition of the FT magazine a few weeks ago and sent the link, saying “more specialisation and a sharper focus on where news organisations can add value could make it much easier to persuade readers/users/consumers that news is something worth paying for.”

I wish I’d seen that piece before writing the lecture. This is it:

If there is one orthodoxy of the past decade that the media industry has reason to curse, it was born when Stewart Brand told the 1984 Hackers’ Conference that “information wants to be free”.

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