Tech gi­ants told: get more re­spon­si­ble

Gov­ern­ment’s Dig­i­tal Char­ter will also tackle grow­ing on­line du­op­oly of Google and Face­book

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Front Page - By Christo­pher Wil­liams

THE Gov­ern­ment is step­ping up pres­sure on Sil­i­con Val­ley gi­ants to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for un­law­ful ma­te­rial on­line and share the spoils of the in­ter­net with me­dia com­pa­nies. Matt Han­cock, the dig­i­tal min­is­ter, told a gath­er­ing of tech­nol­ogy lob­by­ists that the likes of Google and Face­book must in­ter­vene to help pre­serve free­dom and lib­eral val­ues. The shift is an op­por­tu­nity for Bri­tain to gain a “mas­sive ad­van­tage” af­ter Brexit by be­ing the first coun­try to make sure off­line prin­ci­ples ap­ply on­line.

Sig­nalling the Gov­ern­ment’s tougher stance to­wards Sil­i­con Val­ley, Mr Han­cock said a pe­riod of “tech utopia” had ended, and that more re­spon­si­ble at­ti­tudes were re­quired. He said: “This pe­riod of tech utopia was built on a lib­er­tar­ian at­ti­tude that the on­line world was dif­fer­ent, and the old rules could be cast aside.

“As we all learn when we move from ado­les­cence to ma­tu­rity, com­ing of age means tak­ing more re­spon­si­bil­ity for our ac­tions. And so too must the in­ter­net, and the big play­ers on it.”

The Gov­ern­ment is pre­par­ing to draw up a new Dig­i­tal Char­ter that Mr Han­cock said will es­tab­lish “eth­i­cal norms and bound­aries” on­line, hold­ing Sil­i­con Val­ley gi­ants to ac­count for fa­cil­i­tat­ing dis­tri­bu­tion of ex­trem­ist ma­te­rial and im­ages of abuse. The new Char­ter will also aim to cre­ate a “fair eco­nomic land­scape” on­line.

Me­dia com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing news­pa­per pub­lish­ers and broad­cast­ers, have com­plained that Google and Face­book have de­vel­oped into a dam­ag­ing dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing du­op­oly. The pair ac­count for the vast ma­jor­ity of growth in the in­dus­try, as tra­di­tional forms of tele­vi­sion and print ad­ver­tis­ing come un­der pres­sure. Mr Han­cock high­lighted the suc­cess of the record in­dus­try in re­turn­ing to growth via sub­scrip­tion stream­ing ser­vices such as Spo­tify and Ap­ple Mu­sic. He added: “Yet the news me­dia, and high qual­ity jour­nal­ism that pro­vides such a vi­tal pub­lic ser­vice, has yet to find such a sus­tain­able busi­ness model, and we must work to­gether to get there.”

Google and Face­book are un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure to as­sist pub­lish­ers de­vel­op­ing new sources of rev­enue on­line, in­clud­ing by en­cour­ag­ing sub­scrip­tions with user-friendly tools and pro­mot­ing high-qual­ity jour­nal­ism on their ser­vices. It is un­der­stood that the Gov­ern­ment has also asked them to ex­plore whether a Spo­tify-type ser­vice for news might work.

In a sign of min­is­ters’ de­ter­mi­na­tion to make changes, Bri­tain re­cently threw its weight be­hind EU moves to make Google, Face­book, Amazon and oth­ers more legally re­spon­si­ble for copy­right in­fringe­ment.

Mr Han­cock said: “We must build an in­ter­net based on lib­eral and not lib­er­tar­ian val­ues, where we cher­ish free­dom yet pre­vent harm to oth­ers.”

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