Tech companies who are “monetising harm” will be compared with “Big Tobacco” by cyber-security expert Dr Mary Aiken when she outlines her views on how to tackle online abuse to TDs and senators today.
She is also expected to tell the Oireachtas Justice Committee that the challenge of combating problems such as cyber-bullying, harassment and ‘revenge porn’ is that “in cyberspace everything is connected”.
She will warn that a law aimed at any one of these issues alone would be “ineffective” in the absence of addressing a “more comprehensive range of online harms”.
The Justice Committee has been examining options for reforming the law so internet users are protected from online abuse and bullying.
Dr Aiken – an honorary professor at the University of East London’s Department of Law and Criminology – is to outline how many countries are developing regulations to tackle online harms.
She will argue: “Unfortunately Ireland, an important hub for technology companies, should be demonstrating cyber leadership, but has made little or no progress to date despite numerous investigations and reports.”
The Government does have plans for a digital safety commissioner, which would have powers to ensure that internet companies remove harmful material from their platforms.
In her statement to the committee, Ms Aiken will say technology has revolutionised access to knowledge but that “unfettered it has also exploited the vulnerabilities of our children”.
She says the influence of the internet and social media is not an abstract concept and it “impacts real lives”.
Ms Aiken adds: “Monetising harm by designing intelligent algorithms to promote extreme content, and harvest dollars from a child in the ‘attention economy’ is not about celebrating access; it is about exploitation.
“We have been here before. We have seen the damage that is done when commercial interests are allowed to exploit vulnerability and addiction to operate without restraint. We have seen it with Big Tobacco.”
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