This paper will be vital reading for policymakers, regulators, and industry representatives. It is the first attempt at mapping the regulatory landscape, creating a taxonomy of 80 distinct online harms, eight areas of law that need to considered by regulators, nine different agencies who are responsible for regulation, and a diverse range of different regulatory tools that can be used and policy levers that can be pulled.
Much of our time is spent on online platforms like Facebook, Amazon, Google or Zoom, and that is unlikely to change in the near future as more people decide to work remotely and more people are able to easily access the internet.
Most of these platforms are owned and run by large multinational companies, often based in the USA, and operating in part outside of UK law and regulations. These companies are important and influential. We spend a lot of our time using their services. They can be our primary source for news, entertainment and, increasingly, education and income. The decisions their engineers and executives make have an impact on our politics, our relationships, and our mental health.
Platform regulation is, therefore, a vitally important issue, and it is a complex policy landscape. There are numerous authorities, departments and agencies that have some responsibility over regulation and decision making. As a result, it can be a confusing topic, where there is a limited consensus on the best approach to designing regulation that protects citizens and consumers while encouraging innovation and growth in the sector. Policymakers and regulators have, for example, struggled to even come up with a widely agreed definition for 'platform'.
In this Discussion Paper, the PEC’s researchers from CREATe, University of Glasgow, who lead our work in intellectual property and regulation, looked at eight reports issued by the UK government between September 2018 - February 2020 that dealt with issues such as online harms, cyber crime, and the regulation of social media platforms.
They have found that policymakers are focusing on two key areas, Online Harms and Competition. US multinationals - Google and Facebook in particular - have captured regulators’ attention, and they dominate references in the official literature.
The authors consider some of the outcomes for the UK’s regulatory authorities, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the UK’s multi-agency approach, splitting responsibility among multiple department and arms length bodies.