My tech predictions for 2018

(Well, better late than never. This is Scotland in January, after all.)

Before I sink my teeth into the smorgasbord of my 2018 workload, I wanted to share my predictions for the major issues that digital professionals will face this year, with the goal of getting you to think about how you will respond to them.

Two of these predictions are not really predictions: they are well underway. The third, I’m sorry to say, is coming.

Regulate or be regulated

In 2018 we will be reminded that the web is not a civilisation of The Mind in cyberspace and never has been. Tech companies and platforms will continue to tighten up on internal controls and terms of service, on issues ranging from ethics to privacy to community governance to content moderation, in response to warnings from governments to self-regulate softly or face hard legal regulation.

It’s a delicate dance that is working already: the European Commission has signalled its approval of the voluntary codes of conduct on hate speech adopted by the major platforms, backing down on threats to enact hard regulation to do the job.

Governments will, however, continue to be quite happy to throw individual platforms under the bus to make their cases for hard regulation, whether those criticisms are valid or not.

The European privacy overhaul will widen the Transatlantic divide

In Europe, developers – certainly the ones I consult with and speak to at conferences – are enthusiastically embracing the code-focused details of GDPR and the upcoming ePrivacy Directive revamp. Whether that is the Privacy by Design framework, the restriction of telemetry, an overhaul of consent mechanisms, or the creation of granular privacy dashboards, European developers just get the overhaul for the development methodology that it is.

In North America, however, developers who lack both an existing privacy framework and the cultural point of reference to view privacy as a fundamental human right are, by and large, responding to the overhaul with fear, bemusement, misinformation, and, of course, hackneyed libertarian tantrums.

The thing is: while North American developers are choking on their cornflakes, European developers, and their users, are just getting on with it. The web is already becoming better as a result.

North American developers will ultimately have to decide what is more important to them: the integrity of their products and services, or their personal rejection of a transparent and accountable development framework – one which has no hard or soft equivalent in their own system – because that framework just happens to be grounded in foreign regulation.

Their users won’t give that dilemma half as much thought.

Shit’s gonna go down

I mean that literally. Some government, somewhere, will decide that the best way to wrest control of the internet is to take it down altogether.

It may look like an accident: a severed undersea cable, inadvertently cut by a submarine which just happened to be strafing it. It may be an edict to restore public order, as already happened in Cameroon. Or it may come in the form of some coke-snorting plan to nationalise a communications network to protect against foreign influence.

However and whenever it happens, it’s going to make the net neutrality battle look like a warm-up. If self-regulation will be a throwback to the internet of the nineties, the internet’s inevitable partial shutdown will be a test of its origin in the sixties.