The challenges of regulating the Internet – regulating abundance?

(…) the EU finds it easiest to regulate in new areas simply because regulating in existing areas means dealing with the reluctance of member states to change their existing laws. The result is that the Commission tends to to move too quickly to legislation (in the form of Directives) in emerging areas. Examples: the e-Money Directive; the e-Signature Directive; and, now, the Privacy Directive. Plus, of course, the idiocy of applying to the Net concepts designed for regulating TV broadcasters.

John Naughton reports on the Simon Hampton lecture:

This evening I went to an interesting lecture on “The challenges of regulating the Internet” given by Simon Hampton, who is Google’s Director of Public Policy for Northern Europe. He was, he insisted, speaking only “in a personal capacity” and the audience, for the most part, took him at his word. His thesis was that in the technology business the greatest challenge is “the transition from scarcity to abundance” and that policy-makers haven’t taken this transition on board.

(…) He then went on to list the four big companies that have “embraced abundance” — Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook. They all operate on massive scale and have an interest in a bigger, freer Internet — though they have only recently woken up to the necessity of lobbying for this in the corridors of power (which is why the campaign against SOPA was so significant). In this context, Hampton claimed, size really matters — which is why moving into the second half of the chessboard is so significant. “The larger the haystack, the easier it is to find the needle.” (Not sure I followed his logic here.)

(…) Finally, Hampton moved to the question of how to rethink policy-making in the context of abundance. In his opinion, there’s no need to change the broad objectives of public policy. The key switch that is needed is for policy-makers to “embrace abundance”.

What would that mean in practice? He suggested three general principles:

Don’t protect industries based on scarcity. This means accepting the two sides of the Schumpeterian wave of “creative destruction”. To date, our legislatures have been hopeless at this: they appear to be mainly preoccupied with enabling the interests of the past to constrain the future.

Work with crowdsourcing. This is an interesting idea. The example Hampton cited involved contrasting the way broadcasting regulators deal with unacceptable content compared with the way YouTube effectively crowdsources the detection of unacceptable content by inviting its users to flag clips that they think are offensive. Also the way eBay engenders trust with its reputation system; or the way TripAdvisor invites its users to “rate the raters”.

Reappraise the power of data. Mining the avalanche of data is, Hampton thinks, the beginning of wisdom in an age of abundance. (Yes, but it raises privacy nightmares.)

Read the whole thing. Thanks to Seb Schmoller for the link.