UK Data Regulator Calls For Wider Remit In Audits Of Tech Giants


Today, Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, said that future regulation on the biggest tech firms in the world must include the data watchdog of the United Kingdom.

In a speech at the Institute for Government, Denham described the calls of the MPs for regulation of tech giants as a “knee-jerk reaction” that, if excessive, could impinge on freedom of expression.

Her remarks came as platforms such as Facebook’s Instagram came under fire from ministers last January after it was revealed that inappropriate content was being directed at young people because of algorithms that are harvesting their personal information.

To date, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has largely been the sole regulator of internet giants, having imposed a fine of Facebook last year for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The penalty was capped at a maximum of £500,000, as the incident happened before the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

She called on the MPs to consider that the ICO must be part of any future regulation that applies to online platforms.

She stated: “We have the ability to audit tech companies for their governance and their data protection practices. We have the ability under GDPR to reach across borders, which no other regulator in the UK has right now.”

She added: “We have that ability now, but it’s limited to data protection.”

She continued: “[The decision] is one for government and parliament, but you can’t take the data protection regulator out of the mix given [data] personalisation being really at the centre of a lot of these harms.”

The ICO has doubled its employees and gained a budget rise of 60 percent since Denham took office in 2016, which the commissioner attributed to a “tsunami of data” that is arising from new technologies such as artificial intelligence.

The regulator spent a total of £2.5 million on its investigation of both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, which was the largest investigation of the ICO to date. The task involved a team of 40 investigators that are analysing 52 billion pages of records that were confiscated from Cambridge Analytica in 2017.