Social media regulation under fresh scrutiny

An independent advisory body for the ethical use of data-driven technology has concluded that existing regulation falls behind the public’s expectations, bringing the issue of social media regulation under fresh scrutiny once again.

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation’s first submission to government follows a year-long review of online targeting systems, which use personal information about users to decide which posts, videos and adverts to show them.

It found that, while people welcome the convenience of targeting systems, they are concerned that platforms are unaccountable for the way their systems could cause harm to individuals and society, such as by increasing discrimination and harming the vulnerable. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the area of most concern relates to social media platforms.

The analysis found that only 28% of people trust platforms to target them in a responsible way, and when they try to change settings, just 33% trust these companies to do so. Over 60% of people favoured greater regulatory oversight of online targeting, compared with 17% who support self-regulation.

The CDEI’s recommendations aim to increase the accountability of platforms, improve transparency and give users "more meaningful control of their online experience". The report calls for internet regulation to be developed in a way that promotes "human rights-based international norms", and recommends that the online harms regulator should have a statutory duty to protect and respect freedom of expression and privacy.

Chair of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, Roger Taylor said: "Most people do not want targeting stopped. But they do want to know that it is being done safely and responsibly. And they want more control. Tech platforms’ ability to decide what information people see puts them in a position of real power. To build public trust over the long-term it is vital for the government to ensure that the new online harms regulator looks at how platforms recommend content, establishing robust processes to protect vulnerable people."

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