Future regulation on the world’s biggest tech companies must include the UK’s data watchdog, information commissioner Elizabeth Denham said today.
Speaking at the Institute for Government, Denham described MPs’ calls for regulation of tech giants as a “knee-jerk reaction” that, if excessive, could impinge on freedom of expression.
Her comments came as platforms such as Facebook’s Instagram came under fire from ministers last month, after it was revealed that inappropriate content was being directed at young people due to algorithms harvesting their personal data.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has largely been the sole regulator of internet giants to date, having fined Facebook last year for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The penalty was capped at £500,000, as the incident occurred before the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
She urged MPs to consider that the ICO must be part of any future regulation applying to online platforms.
“We have the ability to audit tech companies for their governance and their data protection practices. We have the ability under GDPR to reach across borders, which no other regulator in the UK has right now,” she said.
“We have that ability now, but it’s limited to data protection.”
“[The decision] is one for government and parliament, but you can’t take the data protection regulator out of the mix given [data] personalisation being really at the centre of a lot of these harms.”
The ICO has doubled its staff and gained a budget increase of 60 per cent since Denham took office in 2016, which the commissioner attributed to a “tsunami of data” arising from new technologies such as artificial intelligence.
The regulator spent a total of £2.5m on its investigation of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, which was the ICO's largest investigation to date. The task involved a team of 40 investigators analysing 52bn pages of records that were seized from Cambridge Analytica in 2017.