04/11/2019

Emerging technologies and the rapid pace of technological development have answered many of our problems but have not come without new regulatory challenges. As the political and social influence of tech companies grows, many are questioning the role of these companies in the regulation of their own platforms and devices.

In recent months, Google and Amazon have expressed strong views on the need for the government to regulate their relationships with news media businesses. This comes in response to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (the ACCC) Digital Platforms Inquiry Final Report (the Report) which looked into the rise of digital platforms and the impact of digital platforms on news and journalism and in which the ACCC recommended (among other recommendations) that each designated digital platform “be required to provide a code of conduct to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA) to govern their commercial relationships with news media businesses”. While opposing this recommendation, Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai has expressed support for the regulation of digital platforms, pledging to work with media companies to drive sustainable growth for journalism. Pichai sees the regulation of the internet as a ‘natural evolution’ and recognises that self-regulation is not a complete substitute.

Late last year, Microsoft published six principles for developing and deploying facial recognition technology that it now follows to address concerns regarding the misuse of such technology. Amazon has taken it one step further, recently unveiling its 'Our Positions' page, which sets out their views on topics including climate change, immigration and tax policy. One view which has drawn attention is Amazon’s proposed guidelines for a U.S. national legislative framework for facial recognition software (the Guidelines). The Guidelines urge the protection of individual civil liberties and government transparency in the use of facial recognition technology through for example, compulsory human review of facial recognition results when used by law enforcement agencies to make decisions that may potentially violate a person’s civil rights.

There is currently no federal law in the US regulating the use of facial recognition technology, however in recent months several cities and states – including San Francisco, California, and Oakland and Somerville, Massachusetts – have passed laws to ban the use of such technologies by the police and other agencies. At a federal level, the U.S. Commercial Facial Recognition Privacy Bill was introduced in March this year and, if passed, would prohibit commercial users of facial recognition technology from collecting and re-sharing data for the purpose of identifying or tracking consumers without consent. In Australia, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has commenced a review of the reintroduced Identity-matching Services Bill 2019 and the Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-matching Services) Bill 2019. These bills go towards establishing a federated system that delivers access to selected image databases held by federal, state and territory governments. Compare this with China who recently announced new facial recognition laws that would come into effect in December 2019 and require its citizens to use their biometric data to sign up for the internet or a mobile phone.

Amazon has also expressed support for a U.S. federal privacy law that enables consumers to access their personal information, choose to delete it, and which prohibits the sale of personal data without consent. This echoes Amazon’s renewed prioritisation of individual privacy in their recent Alexa update, which introduced new privacy features to their voice-based assistant including an option for users to automatically delete recordings on a rolling 3-month or 18-month basis. Amazon has however also created devices such as the Echo Frames smart glasses, Echo Loop ring and Echo Buds wireless earbuds which reach further into our everyday lives.

Tech companies today are exerting an unprecedented influence over culture and global economies. We need to put a check on the power of these companies. While many argue that the tech industry's campaigns for regulation aim to generate watered-down legislation and protect their own interests, they are arguably best positioned to offer insight to regulators on this area.

Authors: Michael Caplan, Linda Marshall and Asha Keaney

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