The Future of Tech Regulation: An End to Tech Exceptionalism

In the fast-paced world of technology, the assumption that law and regulation cannot keep up with innovation has long been the norm. However, a sea change is looming on the horizon. In 2024, courts and regulators around the world will prove that tech exceptionalism is nothing but magical thinking. This article delves into the shifting tides of the regulatory landscape, examining the aggressive application of existing laws to address the challenges posed by technological advancements.

A Shift in Approach

The United States, lacking federal privacy legislation, has already taken bold strides in repurposing existing laws to hold Big Tech accountable for its data privacy breaches. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has flexed its regulatory muscle, imposing a half-billion-dollar fine on Epic Games for employing dark patterns to manipulate users. Amazon, too, faced significant fines for privacy breaches through its Alexa and Ring devices. Such regulatory actions are set to escalate in the coming years, with rules on commercial surveillance and digital security in the pipeline. The successes of the FTC will embolden regulators worldwide to follow suit.

Beyond US borders, regulators are also gearing up for a more aggressive stance. In 2022, the French Data Protection Authority, CNIL, slapped Clearview AI with a record-breaking fine for non-compliance. As the penalties continue to mount, regulators such as CNIL will take bolder steps to demonstrate that no company is exempt from the law. OpenAI’s CEO, Sam Altman, called for global AI regulation; however, the prospect of EU regulation, as exemplified by the EU AI Act, has given tech leaders like him pause. Existing regulations, such as those invoked by the Italian DPA against ChatGPT, have also clipped the wings of AI development. Ongoing intellectual property lawsuits, like the one against Microsoft, threaten to disrupt the fundamental business model of generative AI.

Societal Impact Considerations

Courts and regulators in 2024 will extend their focus beyond individual impacts of technology. Society, markets, and businesses will come under scrutiny. Antitrust actions launched in the US and the EU in 2023 challenge Google’s dominance in the ad tech market, potentially upending the programmatic advertising model that underpins much of the internet. The regulatory void that Big Tech has long enjoyed will finally come to an end. As new regulations like the AI Act, the Digital Services Act, and the Digital Markets Act take shape in the EU, existing laws will also play a crucial role in addressing the harms caused by technology. Human rights and civil liberties law, competition law, consumer rights law, intellectual property, defamation, tort, employment law, and numerous other fields will converge to tackle the real-life consequences of existing technologies, including AI.

As society navigates the ever-evolving technological landscape, the power of regulation becomes more apparent. The tech industry cannot hide behind the shield of exceptionalism forever. In 2024, regulators will assert their authority, armed with existing laws and a newfound determination to protect individuals, society, and businesses from the negative impacts of technology. This paradigm shift in regulatory approach demonstrates the capacity of legal systems to adapt and address emerging challenges.

The prevailing belief that law and regulation cannot keep pace with technological innovation will be debunked in the coming years. In 2024, courts and regulators will shed light on the fallacy of tech exceptionalism, ushering in a new era of accountability. By applying existing laws in creative ways, regulators will hold Big Tech accountable for data breaches and privacy infringements. Global regulations will emerge, impacting companies worldwide. The societal impact of technology will be scrutinized, and the monolithic logic of the ad tech market may face a significant shakeup. The dawn of a new regulatory era confirms that technology is not above the law and that the protection of human rights, privacy, and fair competition is paramount.

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