Photo Credit: Christine Baker
Within a single generation, digital technologies have transformed society, including our personal relationships, information consumption habits, and work. Yet while this technological revolution has reshaped our world, providing us instant connection and access to a vast ocean of information, these benefits have come at a cost. Technology companies have prioritized growth over privacy as they consolidated their positions as gatekeepers of our information ecosystems. Recent scandals such as Cambridge Analytica’s collection of personally identifiable information of millions of Facebook users to attempt to influence voter opinion or the violence in India fueled by disinformation that spread on WhatsApp have brought fallout over the misuse of data and the lack of transparency into how these companies safeguard their products and data. Yet technology companies are trapped – the more they regulate their platforms in silo, the higher the risk that they will lose their competitive edge. Expecting for-profit companies to individually regulate their products for the benefit of society in a hyper-competitive marketplace is unrealistic. One natural alternative is government regulation, and we see increasing movement in this direction, especially in Europe. Yet given the rapid evolution of technology, government regulation alone is insufficient and, in some circumstances, counterproductive. Therefore, technology companies should also take a proactive approach to regulation and join forces to self-regulate in collaboration with civil society organizations and government. The topics emerged from the Program on Democracy and the Internet’s research program as PDI explores the challenges that democracy faces in the digital age and the significant impact that regulation in this space will have on the internet and society more broadly.