Software is not the solution to social ills, yet “software solutions” are de facto implemented in policy and regulation without an accurate understanding of what’s actually offered. From Big Data to privacy to censorship, here are recommendations from The Personal (Computer) Is Political for policy makers and regulators, published by The Nominet Trust earlier this week.

Policy makers have a tough job. On the one hand, new technologies offer economic promise and innovation, and so home-grown or imported tech companies are encouraged. On the other, so much is unknown about technological effects that creating legislation is very difficult. Policy makers also want to be part of the conversations online, and so they need to participate to be of relevance and value.

But by doing so, they make themselves vulnerable to public scrutiny, and they implicitly condone the digital biases that may not be reasonable for their positions or for those who they represent.

  • Legislation should support teachers in developing curriculum for the two forms of digital education: the temporarily relevant skills for specific applications (how to use current hardware, software and systems), and the critical capacity to assess these for the assumptions made by the developers in building them.
  • Public bodies, regulators and academic institutions are the only organisations minded to study the effects of web use on the individual and society at large. In order to make any form of policy decision or even to have a sensible policy debate, more study is needed about the personal and social effects of the software.
  • Policy makers and regulators must recognise that a society changed by technology cannot be rolled back to its previous state. Whilst recognising that any regulation must understand the immense benefits of digital technology, legislators must seek to constructively shape the future, rather than attempt to recapture a mythical past.
  • In cases of privacy, regulation – if any – should err towards the protection of the individual rather than protection of the corporate body.
  • The nature of Big Data is that it is easy to find quantitative support for almost any question, but the boundaries of Big Data are vast; the outputs of any analysis are necessarily limited by the quality of the data that goes in and the questions that are asked of it. Be aware of the biases in data capture, data storage, data query and data presentation: data is a storytelling device that always has an agenda.

Read the full report here