Opinion: A Proposal to Simplify the State of Tech Policy Today

With so many nuances going around these days, Drew Wilson offers a way of simplifying and explaining the state of tech policy today.

There are plenty of ways to look at the complex world of technology and tech policy today. The problem is that it is a much more complex nut to crack these days then it was in, say, 2006.

Back then, it was comparatively easy to understand the power dynamic. Big powerful lobbying corporations lobby the government. Then, government gets corrupted by influence and money and push for legislation that would crack down on your digital rights. From there, average, every day people speak out and demand better in the hopes that the awful legislation doesn’t get passed.

Were there nuances to understand back then? Sure. In practice, though, the narrative didn’t typically stray from that series of events. Most famously is the major record labels or movie studios pushing for bad copyright laws and uninformed lawmakers just go along with it.

Of course, while it was a much simpler time back then, that doesn’t really fit well with the dynamics at play today. Today, we also have large tech giants, or “Big Tech” as so many describe it. That does change the dynamics by quite a bit.

So, often when I see people try and describe what things are like today, there seems to be a default answer that isn’t necessarily wrong: “it’s nuanced”. It’s not a wrong answer, but it also doesn’t really offer a very clear picture of the situation today. It’s a lot like someone asking what government is like and getting the answer, “It’s complicated”. Not exactly satisfactory.

As a result, I decided to propose a way of describing the situation. Yes, the situation is more nuanced then this, but it does offer a respectable starting point. Visualize a square. How many points, or corners, does a square have? Four. So, I propose a “four corners” description of the state of tech policy today – more specifically, describing the power dynamic at play.

Three of these corners are quite familiar. In one corner, you have the government. Generally influenced by lobbyists and corporate interests, but, nevertheless, can create the law moving forward. In a second corner, you have the traditional multinational corporations. These are your RIAA’s, MPAA’s, etc. of the world. In a third corner, you have the average, every day people and digital rights advocates. The fourth corner is more of a development in the last decade: big tech. Born out of the common every day and digital rights corner, Big Tech effectively separated itself from that corner and is its own side.

Now, different moves made by different sides can have positive or negative implications for others involved. For instance, if the traditional corporations propose a bad copyright law, they will probably try and benefit the government corner. That can ultimately be detrimental to both big tech and the every day people side. If Big Tech decides that they want to sell personal information, then this attacks the every day person and can be detrimental to larger corporations.

There are, of course, complexities within this arrangement. What about Russian election interference? That is ultimately two parts from the same corner. How about Facebook attacking Section 230 for its own benefit? That can detrimentally impact other elements in the same Big Tech corner. Not everyone is on the same side within a corner. Each corner is obviously composed of many different factions, organizations, individuals, etc.

So, when you are trying to understand the larger plays, you are ultimately standing somewhere in the middle seeing the different sides and factions duking it out. When you are new or don’t understand things all that well, it’s probably all chaos. However, it is possible to use the model to at least gain a basic understanding of what could be at play here.

Naturally, I welcome constructive feedback and ideas to improve this model. You are not going to fully capture such a complex issue as the power dynamics of tech policy of today. This is just about giving insight into the issue for those who might be new to all of this and might have a hard time understanding what all is happening and don’t know where to begin. At minimum, I hope this concept proves helpful in some form or another.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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