With a general sense of ever-increasing scrutiny on how technology is used in our everyday lives, it perhaps surprising to learn that one in three Europeans does not understand the relationship between technology and regulation. This is according to new research commissioned by bitFlyer Europe, which also highlighted that in some countries, many simply do not care if tech regulation even exists.
The insinuation here is that a huge proportion of European residents are simply happy to use devices and services powered by technology without a thought to the potential implications of a lawless digital society.
Of course, IT Pro Portal readers will surely appreciate that this is simply neither safe nor practical. In this age, technology wields an ever-increasing transformative power. And whilst change can be a force for good, power is nothing without control.
By digging into the results, we can see across Europe that opinions vary massively from one nation to the next. Look at France and Belgium, for example, where 41.7 per cent and 43.9 per cent of respondents respectively do not care if tech is regulated or not. With technology now deeply intertwined with fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, confidentiality and personal opinion, tech regulation is arguably more important than ever. Yet, we can see disparate positions from regulators and the general public.
Technology is about innovation and a sign that the world is changing. While we do not want to hinder this change with rules and governance that have the power to stop it in its tracks, industries need regulation to push for structured change.
Take the vast shifts in the automotive industry over the recent decades where, amongst other factors, a focus on improving safety and reducing emissions from governments has led to cleaner and more secure vehicles for the end-consumer. Would so many electrified vehicles be launching in Europe this year without the latest ‘Euro 6’ emissions regulations coming into law? I doubt it. The game has moved on due to penalties for those who don’t push forward with the latest advancements.
The industry needs it
Thinking about my own industry, cryptocurrency - in the grand scheme of things, cryptocurrency is still in its infancy, and this is in part due to a lack of coherent and consistent legislation in the space. Early-adopters are our customers at bitFlyer Europe, but in order to push-through to wide-spread acceptance, robust regulation is essential. Consistency and stability provided by laws will contribute towards sorting the wheat from the chaff. The strong businesses will prosper, the weaker ones may fall and the net result will be further use of crypto in every-day lives.
In the USA, for example, stocks are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to ensure clarity for investors and providers. This helps to reduce uncertainty. Something similar for cryptocurrency may be difficult to replicate, but I think a board analogous to the SEC could improve consumer confidence, leading to increased coin sales and mainstream adoption.
The point I intend to make is that, regardless of sector, the benefits of tech regulation are clear. Yet even in Germany where only 17.7 per cent of those surveyed said that they did not care about how the tech industry is regulated, over 44 per cent still claimed a lack of understanding as to how technology is impacted by regulators. They accept the requirement but still aren’t sure of the motives - and this in itself can lead to apathy.
In my opinion, what might help is clear communication as to why regulations exist, rather than simply the what. Page after page of terms and conditions simply will not be read by many, but clear and concise examples as to how such governance makes an impact tangibly will. Perhaps this is why Facebook is seemingly being scrutinised at every turn right now – over 2.5 billion monthly active users deserve clear protection and headline news of historical data breaches mean that those users themselves recognise the importance.
Regulation is exactly what the tech industry needs – not to hinder innovation, but to control and balance its powers. The moderation of tech is something that is only going to become more prominent as mass-market adoption continues, so we may as well work with and not against those who create the standards.
Education is essential
Smart governments will be those that find the right balance in their policies to support the relentless march forward and also protect the customer with easy-to-understand terms. Those businesses who are quick to respond, embrace the opportunity presented and take a lead will benefit the most as competitors flounder.
Greater public education about the necessity for tech governance is an essential part of the recipe, empowering people to lobby for their own protection so that responsible tech companies rise to the top.
Personally, I’d like to see a world where crypto is widely accepted and for that to happen, as with all technology, those in power need to deliver something to harness the potential.
Andy Bryant, Co-Head & Chief Operating Officer (EMEA), bitFlyer