Regulation (Alone) Won't Fix the Internet

The internet has problems. Innovation can fix it.

By Xische Editorial, May 11, 2019

Source: your/ Shutterstock

Source: your/Shutterstock

The internet has problems. This is not a negative or angry statement but a point of fact. In a remarkably short time, people have been given tools that have radically changed how they communicate, shop, consume information, and organise. With any dramatic shift in history, there are bumps along the way and challenges that have to be overcome. That is the moment we are in with the internet.

Data privacy scandals, looming regulations, and bungled product launches are just a few of the recent ills plaguing the most innovative space on the planet. What is profound about these challenges is not that they exist but how people are thinking about overcoming them. There is a certain air inevitability about many challenges. Our data simply can’t be protected adequately. The power of large technology companies such as Google and Facebook is beyond question or control. This type of fatalism is stemming from a deficit of what made the internet great in the first place: innovation.

Where did the innovation go? It might seem as though regulation is the only solution for the challenges. While we fully support smart regulation, it is not the only way to solve these problems. We need to innovate our way out of them by going back to the roots of the internet.

The early internet was about disruption. Its ethos was innovation. No problem was too big or small. Now that the early pioneers have matured (along with their creations), it’s time to get some of that spirit back. Regulations can help set boundaries  but we need innovation to genuinely fix the internet’s problems. The beautiful part is that innovation is not just about technology; it’s about ideas. It’s time to get thinking again.

Take data privacy. That’s a ripe challenge for a young startup to face head-on. Programmers have said: why not use a blockchain? Instead of relying on the long arm of the government to take the steps necessary to fix the problem, programmers and entrepreneurs can look at challenges as opportunities and begin innovative solutions. The need for innovation is all the more critical given the slowness of governments to respond to the internet’s problems and the fact that there is no signal internet governing body.

For example, the United States Congress has incredible power over Silicon Valley and will likely be pushing through fresh regulations to protect data privacy soon but lawmakers have demonstrated a relative ignorance about how platforms like Facebook even create revenue. This is extremely worrying. Yet again, instead of bemoaning the lack of movement, it is best to see the current landscape as one of opportunities.

As a small country with a nimble legislation environment and openness to innovation, the UAE can forge ahead with progressive governance models that could be emulated in other places. The country has already set about on an ambitious blockchain strategy and created the first Ministry of Artificial Intelligence. This is innovation at its core and the strength of the UAE’s technology ecosystem highlights the dividends that such an approach can have. The two largest technology acquisitions in the history of the Middle East both took place in Dubai with local companies Careem and Souq.com being purchased by Uber and Amazon respectively. Other companies such as the global shipping and logistics service Aramex have called Dubai home from their start and created innovative solutions that have transformed the industry.

So, the internet has problems. That is not a bad thing. The lack of innovation as a response to these problems is concerning but with a new lease on what it means to innovate coupled with smart leadership, problems transform into opportunities. Speaking at a recent World Economic Forum event, the executive chairwoman of the Mozilla Foundation, Mitchell Baker, said, “The state of the world will not improve if we stop innovation and we stop technology.” What we need now more than ever is more innovation, more technology, and more challenges that transform into opportunities.