Law in the Internet Society
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-- By KifayaAbdulkadir - 09 Dec 2021

It has been said that the key to being the best professional boxer is agility and the ability to think quickly on your feet. When one is in the ring facing his opponent, all planned tactic should go out the window. In order to win, you must have the ability to observe your opponent, learn from their moves, analyze and adapt. From time immemorial, we have been in this hyperbolic boxing ring with big Tech getting obliterated yet throwing the same punches. Is it perhaps time to switch stances?

We are at a point in society where our lives are so intertwined with technology that envisioning a future without one is quixotic. Much of what is our current reality was some time ago considered a dystopian future. Tech monopolies have amassed so much power that they have been able to operate largely without legal consequences. While we can agree that technology has brought about numerous challenges, is the best way to completely detach from it? For all of its evils, technology has drastically changed our lives and in some ways, for the better. We cannot realistically plan a future centered on the elimination of technology unless we opt to go completely off-grid. So what is the solution to dealing with this enigma?

Numerous recommendations have been proposed — users have been advised to transition to alternative applications in an attempt to minimize dependency on Big Tech. Suggestions such as using ‘duckduckgo’ instead of google have been proposed, as these alternative sites do not mine as much data as the big tech. On the legal side, the government has been doubling down on anti-trust laws in an attempt to reduce the monopoly of these large companies. Increasing competition in the technology field would supposedly incentivize these platforms to give their best. Once consumers have a wide variety of options to pick from then they can settle on those that prioritize their privacy. However, anti-trust laws alone cannot suffice in a world of ever evolving technology. And though there is speculation that Big Tech might be moving away from trading private data, I must confess I am slightly unconvinced about the plausibility of this scenario. Let’s assume hypothetically Big Tech companies do actually decide to step away from trading private data, who is to say other companies won’t step in to fill the vacuum? In this capitalistic world that we reside in, there will always be buyers and sellers, regardless of a change in the ‘service providers’.

So what are out options? Cutting of technology as we’ve seen is not a solution. We cannot place the task entirely on users to be vigilant in protecting their privacy. And while we can encourage adults to do so, we cannot reasonably expect young children to take these protective measures or to even understand the exigency of the matter. Relying on these platforms to develop a conscience is obviously out of question.

I do not profess to have all the answers on the best way forward but as a lawyer I am hard-wired to look towards the law to solve crisis. The legal solutions provided thus far have been woefully inadequate and myopic. I believe that the biggest problem contributing to the inefficacy of the laws is that regulators have been struggling to catch up with Big Tech. Technology is evolving exponentially and because the law is very slow in keeping up, regulatory gaps are being exposed. This is why these companies have continuously been able to skirt the operation of the law. By the time a regulation has been implemented, these companies have introduced new innovations that raise new legal and ethical implications, not fitting into the already available categories.

In order to conquer this behemoth, we need to address this problem not only from the status quo but from the prism of the future. We need to think ahead and use the law to obviate problems and not merely to solve them once they have permeated society. Granted, the insurmountable challenges brought about by disruptive technology is unprecedented. But technological innovations do not occur spontaneously- if policy makers analyze data surrounding technology they would be able to tell what innovations are likely to hit the market and which ones require extra regulation.

Elon Musk, for example, recently announced that his company Neuralink would begin implanting brain chips in humans next year, to assist those with spinal injuries. While Facebook had also confirmed that it was working on a similar Brain Interface Technology project, that would read brain signals and convert it to text, they quickly abandoned it and opted instead for one that would read muscle signals in the arms. It would not be far-fetched to assume that neural-interface technology is somewhere in the near future. Presumably the reason why we are not fully there yet is because there are technological issues that need to first be overcome. Can we imagine the data privacy concerns that will arise once the line between machine and brain is completely blurred? It is therefore not unfathomable for regulators to predict where innovation is headed so long as they keep abreast of the industry and analyze trends.

The more technology advances, the more intrusive it will get and the more problems regulators will have on their hands. We have identified why things have not been working, and like a professional boxer, we need to learn, analyze and adapt. The first step should be to change the way we are using the law in this fight against Big Tech. The best approach to dealing with this regulatory dilemma is for policymakers to be dynamic and proactive. Let us use the law to curb problems before they grow and not only attempt to fix them once they have become intractable. Flexibility is the most important trait in the art of boxing- when things are not going according to plan, one needs to change tactics. Perhaps once we shift tactics and identify a new path to follow, the light will become clearer as we hobble along.

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r1 - 09 Dec 2021 - 00:57:12 - KifayaAbdulkadir
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