Government signals end to ‘tech utopia’ for Silicon Valley giants

The Government is stepping up pressure on Silicon Valley giants to take responsibility for unlawful material online and share the spoils of the internet with media companies.

The digital minister Matt Hancock told a gathering of technology lobbyists that the likes of Google and Facebook must intervene to help preserve freedom and liberal values. The shift is an opportunity for Britain to gain a “massive advantage” after Brexit by being the first country to make sure offline principles apply online, reports The Telegraph.

Signalling the Government’s tougher stance towards Silicon Valley, Mr Hancock said a period of “tech utopia” had ended, and that more responsible attitudes are required.

He said: “This period of tech utopia was built on a libertarian attitude that the online world was different, and the old rules could be cast aside.

“As we all learn when we move from adolescence to maturity, coming of age means taking more responsibility for our actions. And so too must the internet, and the big players on it.”

The Government is preparing to draw up a new “Digital Charter” that Mr Hancock said will establish “ethical norms and boundaries“ online, holding Silicon Valley giants to account for facilitating distribution of extremist material and images of abuse. The new Charter will also aim to create a “fair economic landscape” online.

Media companies, including newspaper publishers and broadcasters, have complained that Google and Facebook have developed into a damaging digital advertising duopoly. The pair account for the vast majority of growth in the industry, as traditional forms of television and print advertising come under pressure.

Mr Hancock highlighted the success of the record industry in returning to growth via subscription streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music.

He added: “Yet the news media, and the high quality journalism that provides such a vital public service, has yet to find such a sustainable business model, and we must work together to get there.”

Google and Facebook are under increasing pressure to assist publishers developing new sources of revenue online, including by encouraging subscriptions with user-friendly tools and promoting high quality journalism on their services. It is understood the Government has also asked them to explore whether a Spotify-type service for news might work.

In a sign of ministers’ determination to make changes, Britain recently threw its weight behind EU moves to make Google, Facebook, Amazon and others more legally responsible for copyright infringement.

Mr Hancock said: “We must build an internet based on liberal and not libertarian values, where we cherish freedom yet prevent harm to others.

“The delicate and careful limits we have honed over generations to govern life off-line should apply online too.”