Skip to content

Tech & Digitalisation

Tony Blair's Foreword to A New Deal for Big Tech

Commentary31st October 2018

From the early days of the Internet in the early 1990s, when sparks of curiosity quickly became commercialised, the last decade saw the industry’s accelerated speed from infancy to adolescence. Disrupting the old incumbents, companies that enjoyed economies of scale and strong network effects began to form the cradle of a new economy, but also created unforeseen ripple effects on politics and society, the impact of which we’re still trying to understand.

The pace and all-encompassing nature of this revolution could not have been imagined. But with some of these companies now the largest on the planet, their influence requires a more mature and responsible approach. Mistakes have been made, and the power of technology has become too concentrated in the hands of too few. But the policy response being suggested by populists of both left and right, which is one either of knee-jerk reaction or of rash opportunism, should be rejected. Instead, we need a fresh approach that makes these firms more accountable and more transparent to consumers but does not erode their ability to innovate.

This issue is key for the centre ground of politics today. Technology should be shaping our thinking across the whole policy platform. In education, it can help us better map out individual learning requirements. In health, companies such as DeepMind have already begun to show the potentially vast consequences for diagnostics. And in energy, clean renewables may be key to the health of the planet in the long term. In the UK, the party that best grasps this will shape public service delivery for decades.

This profusion of technology has been driven by people. The adoption curve of computing was quick, but the proliferation of smartphones has been astonishing. Increasingly, they are simply remote controls for our lives. And as technology has spread, becoming nearly universal in the West, it has raised a whole number of issues, such as the potential impact on jobs and its contribution to rising polarisation.

It means that now, more than ever, the private incentives of firms need to align with the public interest. And in setting out a new vision for regulation in the 21st century, today my Institute publishes a progressive proposal for a new approach to regulation of tech: one that harnesses the benefits but mitigates the risks.

At the heart of this approach is a new transatlantic alliance for technology. Parallel regulators in the United States and at the European Union level should be established, tasked with the remit of rewriting the rules for the Internet age.

It would be a radical departure from old policymaking, grounded in values rather than hard-and-fast rules, and would recognise and engage with the complex interaction between firms, users and society as a whole.

It would start by focusing on the big technology companies; those that have the greatest power and an outsize impact on the world around them.  

It would place a new responsibility on these firms, with standards built in unison with the communities they serve.

It would focus on the rights and well-being of consumers, with more powers handed to the individual to understand how their data are being used and by whom.

It would also renew competition policy to be relevant for the economies of today. Practically, this means a stronger process to stop large companies from buying out potentially competitive start-ups. With international tax reform unlikely to be forthcoming in the near future, it would also be given powers to place companies temporarily in a corporate-tax regime that allocates profits geographically in proportion to active users.

Together the reforms would place the US and the EU at the forefront of setting ethical standards for tech worldwide. But importantly, they would encourage, not stifle, innovation.

This competitive edge will be key. Many parts of the developing world have begun to converge economically with Europe, while China is vying with the US. This should not be a zero-sum game; it is simply the new reality. In tech, China is the only nation that comes anywhere close to Silicon Valley. Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent are already some of the world’s biggest tech firms, while the government has already signalled its intention to be the world leader in AI by 2030. It is an ambition they will very likely realise.

India might also not be far behind either. The number of tech unicorns has hit a record this year, although they are unlikely to touch China’s dominance in AI, which will be driven by a different approach to rights and freedoms.

This is also why a fully multilateral approach is unlikely to work, even if some firms exist across almost all jurisdictions. Since a potential high point in the 1990s with the creation of the World Trade Organisation, on a whole host of issues we’ve seen the limits of global governance and effective collective action, a trend that is likely to continue. In an increasingly disconnected state of international affairs, there is likely to be little agreement on a common path forward for regulation in the Internet age.

Instead, the liberal democracies of the US and the EU, which have historically shared values, should make shaping the future of technology their number one priority. These are the industries that will shape our common future, and we should shape them together. This new report provides a brilliant blueprint for how this might work.


  1. 1.

    David Kravets, “Dec. 7, 1999: RIAA Sues Napster”, Wired, 7 December 2009,

  2. 2.

    Ben Popper, “Google announces over 2 billion monthly active devices on Android”, The Verge, 17 May 2017,; “Apple Reports First Quarter Results”, Apple press release, 1 February 2018,; Frederic Lardinois, “Microsoft says nearly 700M devices now run Windows 10”, TechCrunch, 7 May 2018,

  3. 3.

    “Amazon Echo, Google Home Installed Base Hits 50 Million; Apple Has 6% Market Share, Report Says”, Forbes, 2 August 2018,

  4. 4.

    “Aggregation Theory”, Stratechery, accessed 28 September 2018,

  5. 5.

    Josh Constine, “Facebook now has 2 billion monthly users. . . and responsibility”, TechCrunch, 27 June 2017,

  6. 6.

    Paul Sawers, “WordPress now powers 30% of websites”, VentureBeat, 5 March 2018,

  7. 7.

    Ashlee Vance, “How Two Brothers Turned Seven Lines of Code Into a $9.2 Billion Startup”, Bloomberg Businessweek, 1 August 2017,


  8. 8.

    “Tech Nation 2018”, Tech Nation, May 2018,; “Digital Planet 2017”, The Fletcher School at Tufts University, July 2017,; “The State of European Tech 2017”, Atomico, November 2017,

  9. 9.

    “Disruptive Innovation”, Clayton Christensen, accessed 27 September 2018,; Marc Andreessen, “Why Software Is Eating The World”, Wall Street Journal, 20 August 2011,

  10. 10.

    Laura Bliss, “Lyft Is Reaching L.A. Neighborhoods Where Taxis Wouldn’t”, CityLab, 29 June 2018,

  11. 11.

    “You’ve been sherlocked”, Economist, 13 July 2012,

  12. 12.

    Lina M. Khan, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox”, Yale Law Journal 126, no. 3 (January 2017): 564–907,

  13. 13.

    “American tech giants are making life tough for startups”, Economist, 2 June 2018,

  14. 14.

    Jean-Louis Gassée, “The Windows Phone failure was easily preventable, but Microsoft’s culture made it unavoidable”, Quartz, 26 July 2017,

  15. 15.

    Nicolas Colin, “How to fix the welfare state for the entrepreneurial age”, Financial Times, 28 May 2017,

  16. 16.

    “Economic News Release”, United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7 June 2018,


  17. 17.

    Michael Mandel, “How E-Commerce Is Raising Pay And Creating Jobs Around The Country”, Forbes, 3 April 2017,

  18. 18.

    Larry Alton, “Are Millennials More Or Less Likely To Start Their Own Businesses?”, Forbes, 15 February 2017,

  19. 19.

    Katie Roof, “IPOs are back, but for how long?”, TechCrunch, 23 March 2018,

  20. 20.

    Chase Peterson-Withorn, “From Rockefeller to Ford, See Forbes’ 1918 Ranking Of The Richest People In America”, Forbes, 19 September 2017,

  21. 21.

    Nick Wingfield, “Amazon Chooses 20 Finalists for Second Headquarters”, New York Times, 18 January 2018,

  22. 22.

    “Corporate tax and the digital economy: position paper”, UK government closed consultation, 22 November 2017, last updated 13 March 2018,

  23. 23.

    Radhika Sanghani, “I downloaded all my Facebook data and it was a nightmare”, BBC, 21 June 2018,

  24. 24.

    Chris Yiu (@clry2), “Ever wondered *how* those adverts manage to keep on finding you - even when you go incognito, switch devices, or never actually searched for the product in the first place? Let us count the (many, many) ways [THREAD]”, tweet, 7 June 2018,

  25. 25.

    “A long overdue disruption in menstrual products”, Economist, 31 March 2018,

  26. 26.

    “One Small Step for the Web...”, Tim Berners-Lee, September 2018,

  27. 27.

    “Guidelines on the right to ‘data portability’”, European Commission Directorate General for Justice and Consumers, 27 October 2017,

  28. 28.

    “Terms of Service; Didn’t Read”, Terms of Service; Didn’t Read, accessed 28 September 2018,

  29. 29.

    “People, Power and Technology: The 2018 Digital Understanding Report”, Doteveryone, accessed 28 September 2018,

  30. 30.

    Imanol Arrieta Ibarra, Leonard Goff, Diego Jiménez Hernández, Jaron Lanier and E. Glen Weyl, “Should We Treat Data as Labor? Moving Beyond ‘Free’”, American Economic Association Papers & Proceedings 1, no. 1 (forthcoming),

  31. 31.

    Paul Voosen, “How AI detectives are cracking open the black box of deep learning”, Science, 6 July 2017,

  32. 32.

    Casey Newton, “‘Time well spent’ is shaping up to be tech’s next big debate”, The Verge, 17 January 2018,

  33. 33.

    Paul Lewis, “‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia”, Guardian, 6 October 2017,

  34. 34.

    “#StatusofMind”, Royal Society for Public Health, accessed 28 September 2018,

  35. 35.

    “5Rights”, 5Rights, accessed 28 September 2018,

  36. 36.

    Eli Pariser, “Beware online ‘filter bubbles’”, TED talk, March 2011,

  37. 37.

    Massimo Calabresi, “Inside Russia’s Social Media War on America”, Time, 18 May 2017,

  38. 38.

    “UK mass surveillance ruled unlawful in landmark judgment”, Open Rights Group, 13 September 2018,

  39. 39.

    Kim Zetter, “Encryption Is Worldwide: Yet Another Reason Why a US Ban Makes No Sense”, Wired, 11 February 2016,

  40. 40.

    Katie Benner, “Inside the Hotel Industry’s Plan to Combat Airbnb”, New York Times, 16 April 2017,; Henry Goldman, “NYC Is Set to Impose a Cap on Uber”, Bloomberg, 6 August 2018,

  41. 41.

    Shona Ghosh, “A 183-year-old law created for horse-drawn carriages has frustrated Silicon Valley’s buzziest startups”, Business Insider, 11 August 2018,

  42. 42.

    Cory Doctorow, “Theresa May wants to ban crypto: here’s what that would cost, and here’s why it won’t work anyway”, Boing Boing, 4 June 2017,

  43. 43.

    Timothy B. Lee, “What’s in the sweeping copyright bill just passed by the European Parliament”, Ars Technica, 12 September 2018,

  44. 44.

    Aja Romano, “A new law intended to curb sex trafficking threatens the future of the internet as we know it”, Vox, 18 April 2018,

  45. 45.

    “Corbyn: Tech firm tax could fund journalism”, BBC, 23 August 2018,

  46. 46.

    Anna Mikhailova, “Philip Hammond threatens ‘Amazon tax’ on online retailers to help out high street”, Telegraph, 10 August 2018,

  47. 47.

    Michael D. Shear, “Trump, Having Denounced Amazon’s Shipping Deal, Orders Review of Postal Service”, New York Times, 12 April 2018,; Kadhim Shubber and Naomi Rovnick, “Trump vows to address Google’s ‘leftwing media bias’”, Financial Times, 28 August 2018,

  48. 48.

    Jake Kanter, “A top British politician wants to create a publicly-owned tech company to rival Facebook and Netflix — but the idea is being ridiculed”, Business Insider, 25 August 2018,

  49. 49.

    “Mission-oriented innovation policy”, UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, accessed 28 September 2018,

  50. 50.

    Tristan Greene, “Expert predicts ‘AI nationalism’ will change geopolitical landscape”, The Next Web, 26 June 2018,

  51. 51.

    “PRA Rulebook Online”, Bank of England Prudential Regulation Authority, accessed 28 September 2018,

  52. 52.

    William Perrin, “Who Should Regulate To Reduce Harm In Social Media Services?”, Carnegie UK Trust, 10 May 2018,

  53. 53.

    “Community Standards”, Facebook, accessed 28 September 2018,; “Uber Community Guidelines”, Uber, accessed 28 September 2018,

  54. 54.

    “Company Assessments”, Global Network Initiative, accessed 28 September 2018,

  55. 55.

    “Google is fined €4.3bn in the biggest-ever antitrust penalty”, Economist, 21 June 2018,

  56. 56.

    David Nield, “How to Look Up Your Oldest Activity on Google, Facebook, Netflix, and more”, Gizmodo, 26 September 2018,


Practical Solutions
Radical Ideas
Practical Solutions
Radical Ideas
Practical Solutions
Radical Ideas
Practical Solutions
Radical Ideas
Radical Ideas
Practical Solutions
Radical Ideas
Practical Solutions
Radical Ideas
Practical Solutions
Radical Ideas
Practical Solutions