I was surprised when the leader of a big US tech company I was talking to mentioned that there’s a point where they might leave the UK. Others in the room, many from the same company, seemed surprised too. They hadn’t heard this before. I can’t say who it was, but it’s a famous brand.
I’ve been in this job long enough to recognize when someone from the tech world is being a bit difficult. Big tech companies often talk boldly. But this was different.
It showed a feeling I’ve been hearing a lot recently from this important and strong US-based industry.
Many of these companies are becoming more and more frustrated.
Their breaking point is the rules set by the UK government, and these rules are coming in quickly.
The Online Safety Bill is expected to become a law in the fall. This bill aims to protect children and has strict rules for controlling content on social media. If tech executives don’t follow these rules, they could face big fines and even go to jail.
One part of this bill is causing a lot of arguments. It suggests that messages that are encrypted, like the ones you send on WhatsApp, can be read by the platforms they’re sent on, like WhatsApp itself. This can happen if there’s a risk to national security or child safety.
Some say this is important for stopping child abuse, but others worry it takes away privacy from activists, journalists, and politicians.
Apps like WhatsApp and Signal, which use this kind of encryption, are not able to see the actual messages. Both of these apps have said they might leave the UK because of this rule.
There’s also another law being discussed, called the Digital Markets Bill. It says that the UK’s competition authority can set rules for big companies like Amazon and Microsoft. If they don’t follow these rules, they can be punished.
Some companies say this gives too much power to just one group.
Microsoft got very upset when this authority stopped it from buying the big video game company Activision Blizzard.
This is a problem because the European Union (EU) is also making strict rules, but the EU is a bigger market, so companies care more about it.
In the UK, they’re thinking of changing the Investigatory Powers Act. It might mean that tech companies need approval from the government before releasing new security features. Apple didn’t like this idea and said they might take away Facetime and iMessage in the UK if this happens.
It’s clear that the UK shouldn’t be controlled by US tech companies. But many people use their services, and there aren’t many UK options.
At the same time, the UK’s prime minister, Rishi Sunak, is trying to get the AI industry to come to the UK. Some companies have agreed to open offices in London.
But in Silicon Valley in California, some people are getting unhappy with the UK and EU trying to control Big Tech. They think it’s more about jealousy than good reasons.
It’s a hard situation. Big Tech has not always done good things, and many people think it’s time they follow rules.
We also need to remember that being “pro-innovation” doesn’t mean being “pro-Big Tech.” We have to make sure small companies can also be part of new tech markets.
Some experts worry that the people making the rules don’t really understand the fast-changing technology.
“If the government doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to listen, it’s a problem,” said Alan Woodward, a cybersecurity expert.
The Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology says they’ve worked with experts to make these new rules for the tech industry. This includes the Online Safety Bill and the Digital Markets Bill.