Ethics and the Internet: A round-table discussion on efforts to create a code of conduct for the Internet.
Held on Tuesday, September 3rd
Dom Hallas (Coadec)
Jenny Afia (Schillings)
Matthew Lesh (Adam Smith Institute)
Jacob Ohrvik-Stott (Doteveryone)
Some events sell themselves; others require a bit more work. This round-table is one of the latter. I know there are ethical risks surrounding the Internet; I know that the scandals involving Cambridge Analytica, the ‘dark’ web and far right (and far left) sites are doing no one who values the free exchange of information any favours. And I know that data privacy issues in Europe, the US and (increasingly) China pose a threat to Internet users – and a fortiori to smaller start-ups that don’t have the deep pockets of, say, Facebook or Alphabet.
But… I don’t have a good idea of how serious the problems are. Or how we can make the on-line world a better, faster, safer place without killing the innovation that drove it in the first place.
Fortunately, I do know a few people who have been thinking about this. First and foremost is Dom Hallas, executive director at the Coalition for a Digital Economy, which defines itself as a bridge between government and the world of tech start-ups, particularly smaller start-ups that don’t have the financial muscle to face the future without a friendly wind behind them. He is a refugee from the Department for Exiting the EU, and would (I suppose) define himself as a political animal.
Under him, Coadec (which as some powerful names behind it) published a 12-point Digital Charter last year, which was intended to pressure the government into supporting an environment for Internet-based start-ups that would be inter alia:
“clear, stable and predictable”;
You get the picture. Government should also “keep data flowing”, support a diverse, skilled workforce, support a global tech ecosystem – all that sort of thing. Clearly, there is concern about GDPR, about US-EU conflicts over data transfer, about the enormous power of the FAANGs – and about Brexit. But I am sure Dom will enlighten us on all of these.
That said he won’t get things all his own way. Also on the panel are three other experts
Jenny Afia is head of legal at Schillings in London. Her LinkedIn page makes her position clear: “I help people in the public eye protect their privacy and reputations” – which, no doubt, means she keeps a close watch on what is going on in the Internet’s wild-west.
Matthew Lesh is (I assume) of a more libertarian bent, given that he is head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, which he joined at the beginning of this year having been a research fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs in Australia – where his focus was intellectual freedom.
Jacob Ohrvik-Stott is a senior researcher at Doteveryone, a think-tank (set up by Martha Lane-Fox) to look at the relationship between society, government and the world of tech.
It is a slippery subject – but an important one. I am sure it will provoke a lively discussion. If you (or a colleague) would like to join us, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the Centre on 0207 621 1056. As usual, there will be pastries, fruit, tea and coffee for sustenance.