Exclusive: Tony Blair on regulating Big Tech, Facebook, Russia, China and Brexit

Exclusive: Tony Blair on regulating Big Tech, Facebook, Russia, China and Brexit

As history tells us, the break-up of ‘Big Oil’ and ‘Big Telco’ in the past, led to more competition and innovation. What to do in the era of ‘Big Tech’? Living in 2019, we know more than ever before about how Big Tech, particularly in the shape of Facebook, Twitter and Google – as the prime arbiters of information and social media online – have shaped and affected politics today. At the same time, we’re about to face several huge sea-changes in the global system, not least of which will be the next US election, Brexit, the rise of China and challenges of the climate crisis.

Web Summit in Lisbon this week, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair brought out a new report from the Institute which bears his name to address the turmoil of Western politics from the prism of the backlash against globalisation after the 2007–2008 financial crisis, the rise of populist movements and the effects technology is having on society, politicians and policymakers.” data-reactid=”12″>Speaking at Web Summit in Lisbon this week, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair brought out a new report from the Institute which bears his name to address the turmoil of Western politics from the prism of the backlash against globalisation after the 2007–2008 financial crisis, the rise of populist movements and the effects technology is having on society, politicians and policymakers.

A policy framework designed for the offline world may well have served many people well for many decades, but in an age of exponential technology is it fit for purpose?

Platform companies like Facebook, aggregators like Google, Amazon and Uber have, says the Institute, stripped traditional gatekeepers of their power, delivered real progress for consumers and businesses, and increased many freedoms. But they have also brought significant economic upheaval and heightened cultural pressures, along with huge unknowns about the future. The tech wolf has also now concentrated power in the hands of a relatively small number of companies that “all too often wield it clumsily and without sufficient legitimacy.”

This comes at a time when the West’s lead on technology is “facing a clear and present challenge from determined Russian aggression and a concerted push from China to take a global lead in AI.”

"A New Deal for Big Tech: Next-Generation Regulation Fit for the Internet Age") that the current set of regulations designed for legacy industries is “a poor fit for the pace and scale of the Internet” and a new approach, based on stronger accountability coupled with more freedom to innovate, might be the best way to align private incentives with the public interest.” data-reactid=”16″>Blair’s Institute makes it plain in it’s new report (“A New Deal for Big Tech: Next-Generation Regulation Fit for the Internet Age”) that the current set of regulations designed for legacy industries is “a poor fit for the pace and scale of the Internet” and a new approach, based on stronger accountability coupled with more freedom to innovate, might be the best way to align private incentives with the public interest.

Blair is calling for a “new generation of regulator” that can take an international outlook, have technical expertise comparable with the big tech companies and be fluent in the same fundamentals of ‘Big Tech’.

But how? How is all this going to operate? What are Blair’s view on Russia, disinformation on Facebook and Twitter, and whether tech will have an effect on the outcome of Brexit?

TechCrunch sat down with Mr Blair for the following, exclusive, interview:

 

Chris Yiu, Executive Director, Technology and Public Policy] heads up, which is based in London but has strong links in Silicon Valley and elsewhere in the world – is to say there needs to be a dialogue between what I call the ‘change-makers’ and the policymakers that leads to good policy.” data-reactid=”35″>TB: I think the whole point about regulation is that it can be bad or it can be good. So you really want to make sure that the regulation you’re introducing is not an imposition on the companies for providing the service they do, but it is giving people proper protection and it’s recognizing, as I say, the power that these companies have. People won’t find it acceptable that things continue without proper regulation. The fact that Mark Zuckerberg comes out in favor of regulation… I mean, I think that’s good. But the question is what type of regulation. And there, obviously, he and Facebook should have an input. But they can’t decide that. That’s – in the end – got to be decided by policymakers. And one thing my institute – which Chris [Chris Yiu, Executive Director, Technology and Public Policy] heads up, which is based in London but has strong links in Silicon Valley and elsewhere in the world – is to say there needs to be a dialogue between what I call the ‘change-makers’ and the policymakers that leads to good policy.

In regards to regulation, I would like to see Europe and America create a new transatlantic partnership around regulation. This is one of the reasons I’m so opposed to Brexit… You are taking Britain out of that conversation with Europe at the very time that it needs to be in it.

The problem is that political leaders are always trying to ‘step out in front’, but not so much that they lose touch with their people. So that’s a calibration, all the time, between leadership and listening. If the ‘listening’ part of it becomes ‘instrumentalized’ through social media, then the risk is that politicians just lose their compass. They don’t know where they’re going, they are just buffeted by waves of opinion. And then, if you’re not careful, what happens is that the people who rise to the top in those circumstances are the people who ride that.

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