Politics and policy roundup with Taso Advisory’s Ben Greenstone

Plexal member Ben Greenstone, founder of Taso Advisory, has shared his essential roundup of the politics and policy news that Plexal members would find relevant. If you’d like his weekly newsletter you can subscribe at thepolicydownload.com

And if you’d like to talk through any of the content, just drop an email to hello@tasoadvisory.com

A rundown of October

Government, technology and COVID-19 – The government’s use of technology in the fight against COVID-19 has received some criticism. The NHS COVID-19 App couldn’t log tests done by the NHS and sends random push notifications about contact that subsequently do not appear in the app. Public Health England missed 16,000 positive COVID-19 tests because they were using .xls files rather than .xlsx. There’s a huge opportunity for good technology (and implementation) to be sold into the government.

Information Commissioner closes investigation into Cambridge Analytica (link) – A three-year investigation by the UK’s data protection regulator into Cambridge Analytica, the firm that some thought had “hacked” the Brexit vote with vast amounts of personal data and highly targeted ads, has fizzled out. The basic findings seem to be that there was no real magic to Cambridge Analytica’s work, and that (as others have said for a long time) the firm was aggressively overselling its capabilities rather than actually committing serious breaches of any rules. This is worth noting for anyone involved in data analysis and adtech, which has had a bad rep since Cambridge Analytica entered the spotlight.

Digital Services Tax doesn’t do what the government hoped (link) – The government took a lot of flak for news that big digital service providers would pass on the tax. Who could have predicted that businesses would pass on the costs of new taxes? Amazon was the lightning rod, but it isn’t just them: Google, Apple and others will (reasonably) pass on the costs of the tax via increased service fees. All of this comes as the OECD delays any global agreement on a digital services tax. Any business that relies on a major digital service provider to distribute their product to end users needs to take note that 2% of your margin might be about to be eaten.

TikTok expands ban on hate speech (link) – TikTok has announced it’s doing more to get rid of hateful content on the service. TikTok is more comfortable with this kind of moderation than its US peers. The US considers free speech to be a fundamental right (this interview with the founder of Parler is worth listening to), while China does not. The company has grown up to be ok with moderation. Similarly, in the UK and Europe we have long considered free speech to be a qualified, rather than fundamental, right. This will be interesting in the context of forthcoming Online Harms legislation. If your business allows for, or relies on, user interaction and user generated content then you need to pay attention to this.

Apprenticeship changes (link) – In a set piece speech on skills and education the prime minister announced greater flexibility for apprenticeships. This is huge for the creative industries who have historically struggled to use apprentices thanks to oversights in the apprenticeship rules. If you’re a creative business with a focus on project work this is worth keeping an eye on.

Economic support for freelancers expanded (link) – The chancellor announced that the amount available via the self-employed grants will double to 40% of profits to a maximum of £3,750. This is good news for freelancers across the creative industries, but still doesn’t cover the people who have fallen between the cracks.

Coming in November


Government response to the Online Harms White Paper consultation – The government’s flagship piece of digital regulation was delayed again last week. Number 10 says we can expect this in mid-November, but it’s possible we won’t see it until the end of November. Pay particular attention if your business facilitates user interaction and user generated content, as this will change how you operate.

The European Commission will present the Digital Services Act – the major bit of European digital regulation is due at the end of November or early December. It will cover everything from moderating content to platform competition. We’ll be keeping an eye on how this develops and how it plays with the Online Harms White Paper. We wrote about it back in June – link.

Spending Review – The semi-regular event at which the Treasury tells the government how much it has to spend will take place on 25 November. This is a one-year settlement and will likely be a roll-over, so no major cuts or new initiatives.


Ongoing consultations 


Below is a list of consultations, inquiries and calls for evidence that you might find interesting and want to submit responses to.

  • Transparency in digital campaigning – Cabinet Office (link) – opened 12/08/20, closing 04/11/20.
  • Improving Broadband – Public Accounts Committee (link) – opened 20/10/20, closing 04/11/20.
  • Economics of music streaming – DCMS Select Committee (link) – opened 15/10/20, closing 16/11/20.
  • Loot boxes in video games – DCMS (link) – opened 23/09/20, closing 22/11/20.
  • AI and intellectual property – Intellectual Property Office (link) – opened 07/09/20, closing 30/11/20.
  • National Data Strategy – DCMS (link) – opened 09/09/20, closing 02/12/20.
  • Living online: the long-term impact on wellbeing – COVID-19 Committee (link) – opened 28/10/20, closing 11/12/20)
  • Digital Strategy for Scotland – Scottish Government (link) – opened 30/09/20, closing 23/12/20.
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