This article was published on July 28, 2016

Don’t let red tape ruin your digital world

Don’t let red tape ruin your digital world

OK, I get it: Regulation isn’t the most exciting subject in the world. But when red tape threatens our enjoyment of the digital services we’ve all grown to love, it may be a sign that we need to find better ways to ensure that consumers are well served and that competition is healthy .

We’re getting used to a steady stream of new, cool digital services such as Uber, Deliveroo and – lest we forget – Pokémon GO, and to keep them coming I think then we need to keep an eye on whether regulations are proportionate and able to achieve what they set out to do.

In the old days (by which I mean the ‘90s and early 2000s!) the digital world was something of a Wild West. And it’s easy to see why: Technology developed so quickly regulators had difficulty keeping up.

But today we’re in danger of going too much the other way, with complex and overlapping privacy regulations that might stifle digital innovation. The more layers of bureaucracy, the slower the pace of innovation.

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The EU’s e-Privacy Directive as a case in point.

As well as being responsible for those annoying ‘we use cookies’ pop-ups, the e-Privacy Directive also includes a number of measures that aim to protect consumer data. It also regulates everyone’s favorite online bogeyman: SPAM.

This is all well and good and the aims of the legislation should be applauded, but the fact is: It’s now outdated, redundant and needs to go.

This is because we now have the much better EU General Data Protection Act. This is a more comprehensive and simple piece of legislation that’s much easier for businesses to comply with and, more importantly, very clear to consumers about what their rights are when it comes to their personal data.

So strongly does Telefónica feel about this subject that it has teamed up with companies including Netflix, Facebook, eBay, Amazon and Google to ask the EU to scrap the e-Privacy Directive. These companies are all bound by their belief that if unnecessary red tape is cut back, digital innovation will go from strength to strength.

Now, let me be absolutely clear: Just because Telefónica wants a streamlined approach to regulation it doesn’t follow that it’s anti-regulation. Quite the opposite: We want to see the right regulations in place so that digital innovation can strengthen the economy and improve peoples’ lives.

We want the right rules that inspire and build trust in digital life.

That’s because that trust is the essential foundation for new digital services to succeed. This correlation is evidenced in Telefónica’s recent Index on Digital Life. This index ranks countries according to the maturity of their digital development.

One of the chief measures we use for gauging that maturity is digital confidence – how readily individuals and organizations engage with their country’s digital services.

We found that countries scoring highly on the digital confidence pillar perform well in the overall Index score, relative to their GDP per capita.

In fact, 15 of the top 20 over-performing digital economies were also the top over-performing countries specifically for digital confidence (the top three countries overall compared to GDP were Canada, the UK and Colombia, while the top three for digital confidence were Australia, the UK and Colombia – a pretty strong correlation in my book!).

So it’s all there in the numbers: If we want our digital economies to be strong we need to win the confidence of consumers.

So what needs to happen?

We need businesses and regulators to work together to create simple, clear and streamlined regulations that are easy to apply and leave no doubt in consumers’ minds that their data is safe.

Customers, business and regulators all need to agree that regulation must support digital innovation, rather than hinder it. Only then can we be sure to realize the full potential of a digital world.

And why should you care? Because getting this wrong will hamper innovation and entrepreneurial spirit – something that none of us want.

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