World networks. Why do the developed nations try to regulate the Internet?

World networks. Why do the developed nations try to regulate the Internet?

For a long time, the Internet was a global space, not subject to laws. But over time, it acquired borders: what was allowed in one country could be prosecuted in another. The ever-growing number of users – today about 4.3 billion people are active in one way or another in social networks – has forced the states of the world to take online life as seriously as the reality. This was facilitated by the fact that all the personal data of billions of users concentrated in the hands of several of the largest IT giants. Today, there are more talks about peculiar trends in the global digital market: states are following similar paths, trying to make the network more secure. “Lenta.ru” figured out how different countries are trying to regulate the Internet and whether the measures taken around the world are similar to the Russian ones.  

Private business

The resources that the largest IT companies have concentrated on their servers are enormous. By absorbing competitors and increasing the already multimillion audience, over time they came to a total monopoly. Big Tech can unilaterally establish vague rules that affect the lives of billions of users, and at the same time decline to explain its own principles of work in any way to those on whom they make money. The users themselves provide corporations with almost all information about themselves around the clock – from location to personal correspondence. The volume of this data is constantly growing, each person leaves an extensive digital “imprint”: data on subscriptions, site visits, banking transactions and much more - corporations have so much data that they can compose a detailed description of each person if they wish.

The user himself must control his own data - this is how the European authorities decided in 2016 and developed the General Data Protection Regulation of the European Union (GDPR). Thanks to this document, users have the right to be forgotten – in some cases, a person may demand to delete data about himself. In addition, pseudonymization has appeared. Such data processing makes impossible to establish the identity of a person.

The law has been in effect in Europe for the fourth year already. It did not require changes in the legislation of the EU member states and became mandatory for everyone who is part of the association. Failure to comply with the law is punishable by a fine of up to 20 million Euros, or up to four percent of the corporation's annual turnover.

The European lawmakers did not stop there. At the end of last year, the European Commission developed a draft regulation on the exchange and management of data, which is designed to strengthen control over the transfer of information about users. Special intermediaries have been introduced into the platform-user data exchange model. They will have the right to collect and store information, as well as control how it is used. At the same time, such controllers will not be able to independently produce anything, nor use the data at their own discretion. It is expected that intermediaries will significantly affect the operation of large platforms and services: they will limit the resources in transferring information to countries where user data is not so carefully protected.

A law similar to the European GDPR has recently entered into force in Russia: now it is prohibited to distribute personal data of citizens on the network without their special consent. True, there are exceptions: they relate to socially significant information. In other cases, a person's personal data must be deleted at his first request within three days. If, after this period, personal information remains on the network, the Russians have the right to demand justice in court.

According to Alexander Zhuravlev, chairman of the Commission for legal support of the digital economy at the Moscow branch of the Russian Association of Lawyers, regulation of the activities of transnational technology companies in general has become an important task. Zhuravlev advocates that IT corporations that ignore Russian laws must be punished with restrictive measures. 

Onsite work

The world strives to control Internet giants. For example, last summer, the French antitrust authority fined Google half a billion Euros for failing to comply with court decisions, as well as for the fact that the company did not negotiate with media publishers about using their content properly. In September, Ireland fined WhatsApp messenger €225 million for failing to inform users about the collection and use of their personal data.

Countries trying to influence global digital platforms face the same challenges. This is evidenced by research of the Center for Global IT-Cooperation. Experts note that Internet corporations do not effectively remove illegal content and practice unfair competition. In addition, there are imperfections regarding the taxation of platforms, and there is no uniform procedure for upholding national digital sovereignty.

“Russia, of course, belongs to the states in which the closest attention is paid to the regulation of the activities of global IT companies. This is done in order to balance the growing influence of multinational corporations that own digital platforms on the economy, society and the daily life of citizens. Moreover, the trend towards modernization and strengthening of regulatory measures in the digital space is typical for many countries: we can observe it in the European Union, Great Britain, Turkey, USA, China, Australia – literally in all corners of the world. And the question of how and when the states and global digital platforms will be able to agree on mutually acceptable “rules of the game” is especially relevant today,” - Vadim Glushchenko, Director of the Center for Global IT-Cooperation. 

According to Glushchenko, the state seeks a dialogue with the largest online platforms precisely in order to defend the digital interests of citizens. This approach has already been taken, he says. For example, according to the “landing” law, the owners of popular foreign online platforms must open representative offices or branches in Russia, or establish a legal entity. Legislators believe that this will allow the Russians to interact more closely with resources – including protecting their privacy. Some IT giants have already expressed their readiness to fulfill the requirements. 

A similar process, apparently, will soon start in the EU countries: Vice-President of the European Commission Margrethe Vestager, during a discussion of the Digital Services Act (DSA), said that the activities of the American technology corporations should be regulated by the European countries in which their headquarters are located. Often, the European Union comes up with a talk about digital sovereignty.

In the spring of 2021, it was revealed that the EU is investing billions of Euros in fundamental and key technologies that will help strengthen its own technological sovereignty and reduce dependence on the United States and China. The European Commission assures that this is only necessary to defend their own interests. In Russia, the law on “sustainable Runet” came into force two years ago. 

“It should also be noted that Russia creates a comfortable environment for information technology companies located on our territory. When adopting the first package of measures to support the IT industry, significant preferences were adopted for software developers, and to date, more than five thousand companies have already used them. Now, new measures will be taken as part of the second package of support measures, and they will affect almost all areas of the information technology industry,” - Alexander Zhuravlev commented. 

Against the rules

Another area that many countries are trying to regulate is destructive content and fakes. In the second half of the 2010s, various countries passed laws restricting the distribution of such materials. At the same time, the states had to admit that they hoped in vain for the consciousness of the services themselves and that the sites would independently remove such content. The UK Prime Minister during that time, Theresa May, blamed the Internet giants for “not doing enough to protect users, especially children and young people, from malicious content” for far too long.

In 2019, the British authorities came up with another initiative to combat fakes and illegal information. They proposed a mechanism to protect users, called Safety by Design, which had to be implemented during the development phase. In addition, they have developed a special programme to improve the digital literacy of citizens.

Threats on the network were systematized and described in a special document called the Online Harms White Paper. It contains all the dangers that a person may face on the Internet: from legally defined (approving suicide or promoting violence and extremism) to content outside a certain status (trolling, bullying, etc.). The document also drew attention to legal content that is potentially dangerous for children: for example, online dating applications or materials with obscene language. In early 2020, the British government even decided to give national media regulator Ofcom the right to fight destructive content on its own.

Germany has a voluntary and compulsory regulation of Internet platforms. Illegal activity is defined by The Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG), which has been in effect since 2017. Violations under this law include calling for violence, extremism, insults and more. Fines for non-compliance can be as high as 50 million Euros. A year later, a law to combat fake news and destructive content was passed in France. In Turkey, the legislation is even stricter – resources are required to remove destructive content at the first request of the local telecommunications and communications administration.

In 2020, the European Commission proposed a large-scale project of digital regulation: in addition to the already mentioned document on digital markets, Digital Services Act (DSA) was also proposed, designed, like the GDPR, to combat human rights violations and incitement to hatred on the Internet. Close attention will be paid to Internet platforms, which are used by more than ten percent of the population of the European Union – it is obvious that among them will be Google and its YouTube, as well as Twitter and Facebook.

The law will oblige these services to provide transparency of work and clarify their own recommendation algorithms. In addition, they will have to collaborate with researchers who will analyze their activities. Considerable attention is paid to the DSA and the fight against illegal content, services and goods: it is assumed that the services will create mechanisms for a comprehensive fight against them, including the calculation of companies associated with such products. The violating giants will be forced to pay fines of up to six percent of the company's annual turnover.

Australia also entered the warpath with IT corporations in 2021: the local government is actively working on the regulatory framework. According to the Minister of Communications Paul Fletcher, the country plans to strengthen control over how services work. “We expect a tougher stance from the platforms. For a long time, they got away without taking any responsibility for the content posted on their sites,” Fletcher said. He stressed that Canberra is looking at “a variety of ways” to combat the very idea that anything can be posted online with complete impunity.

“The interests of our citizens in the digital environment are not too different from those of users in other countries: a person wants to feel protected online in all aspects. This primarily includes the security of personal and other data, ensuring privacy, minimizing contact with destructive content and fake information”, - Vadim Glushchenko, Director of the Center for Global IT-Cooperation.

In 2021, a law came into force in Russia obliging social networks to identify and block dangerous content. We are talking about services the audience of which exceeds half a million users per day. Materials with pornographic images of minors, information inciting children to commit life-threatening and illegal actions, data on the methods of making and using drugs, methods of committing suicide and calling for it, advertising for the remote sale of alcohol and online casinos were banned. But this is not all: in the near future, the State Duma plans to introduce responsibility for the distribution of so-called trash streams, in which they practice bullying people ‘live’.

The Internet, which 20 years ago was a space of absolute permissiveness, has shown how differently people perceive freedom: for many, it manifested itself in the ability to bully, insult opponents and mock strangers. This, as well as the fact that over time, communities of much more unethical phenomena such as child porn and the illegal arms trade have proliferated on the network, forced to take retaliatory measures - to prescribe the legislative framework for what happens online. And while some are outraged by attempts to regulate the Internet, calling it censorship, the experience of the world's leading countries adopting basically identical laws illustrates that these measures are relevant.


IT giants
Digital platforms
Destructive content