Following a year that exposed our reliance on technology to stay connected, both in terms of work and socialising, 2021 will see the industry attempt to clean up its own messes.
© Provided by The i A tweet by musician Dionne Warwick is displayed over the Hilton Harden Inn in Midtown New York (Photo: Getty)
While then-Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s declaration that UK roads would play host to driverless cars by 2021 was optimistic even back in November 2017, it’s safe to say that fully autonomous cars are still some way off becoming common sights whizzing around British roundabouts. Instead, lengthy trials will continue to test public attitudes towards the vehicles, although Uber’s decision to sell its self-driving unit earlier this month is far from a vote of confidence in the endeavour.
Weaponisation of misinformation
Likewise, if 2020 was supposed to be the year we became more accustomed to using 5G, it’s unlikely the industry would have been prepared for the already well-established anti-5G brigade to link the technology to the coronavirus outbreak. The rash of violence against broadband engineers and arson attacks on phone masts prompted by false claims are representative the war telecoms companies as well as social media platforms and other tech giants will continue to wage against disinformation and conspiracy theories throughout 2021. Facebook, Google, YouTube, TikTok et al will be forced to invest more time and resources into tackling malicious content or risk losing user trust.
© Provided by The i We spent more time online in 2020 than ever before (Photo: Getty)
Similarly, digital secretary Oliver Dowden has recently made bold strides to regulate internet services in the UK in what he’s promised will be the “toughest and most comprehensive online safety regime in the world“. Mr Dowden made a commitment earlier this month to bring the Online Harms Bill, which would allow Ofcom to slap tech giants with multi-billion pound fines, before parliament in 2021, although it’s unlikely to come into force before 2022.
Antitrust tensions bubble over
Elsewhere in Europe, the European Commission recently presented two new pieces of legislation designed to crack down on what it perceives as Big Tech’s anti-competitive practices and to even the playing field for smaller start-ups. Ultimately, this could theoretically force companies to break up if they’re found to breach the rules, echoing the announcement earlier this month that the US government is suing Facebook over monopoly concerns and threatening it with future spinning off Instagram and WhatsApp into independent firms. While the outcomes of both actions will take years to surface, the next 12 months will be instrumental in dictating how Big Tech is allowed to behave and how we, the consumers, are protected from its inherent harms.
Staring down the barrel of greater regulation – with financial consequences – and the public voicing increasing dissatisfaction at the vast inequalities and issues the industry not only tolerates but encourages, tech will be forced to acknowledge its failures and shortcomings in 2021. Big Tech always trots out the platitude that it “welcomes the opportunity to work closely with governments”, but this year will force the world’s most powerful companies to put their money where their mouth is – or risk the consequences.