Editorial - February/March 2018

This special edition of Global Insight considers key rule of law issues relating to the widespread transformation brought about by technology. Established tech-focused companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google, retail-driven giants like Amazon, and niche online platforms such as Airbnb and Uber have quickly become household names. While emerging as hugely successful and influential companies, they’ve also challenged many of our assumptions about the ‘rules of the game’.

Our feature, Toe to toe with the tech giants, assesses some of the battles between competition authorities and the major players. These have been developing throughout the first two decades of this century. The chip maker Intel continues its fight against the record €1.06bn fine imposed on it by the European authorities, which have since been ordered to re-examine activity as far back as 2002. This enormous fine was surpassed in June last year, when Google was found to have abused its dominant position in online search, resulting in a €2.42bn fine.

The fines may be huge, but the battle is increasingly unequal: concepts wielded by authorities – in Europe, America and elsewhere in the world – may not be up to the task. The traditional emphasis on prices for consumers, for example, doesn’t marry up with how market power is established and then martialled by tech giants. Meanwhile, the impact of such companies can be immense. Our feature, The hundred-billion-dollar hotel, tracks the meteoric rise of Airbnb and further highlights the need to overhaul regulatory frameworks, ensuring they’re comprehensive and international, rather than patchy and local.

Our technology column, Fights over internet rights, picks up these and related themes in considering whether it’s now time for a digital bill of rights, particularly in light of America’s recent rollback of net neutrality legislation. When major tech companies such as Amazon, Apple and Google negotiate over restrictions to the type of information available to Chinese users to maintain a hold in the marketplace, they are shaping fundamental principles and human rights, such as freedom of expression. Add to this global concerns over surveillance and, despite the relative novelty of the internet and all things digital, a proper debate on regulation in general, and an online constitution in particular, now seem overdue.