Freedom of Expression (Communications and Digital Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:23 pm ar 27 Hydref 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Uddin Baroness Uddin Non-affiliated 4:23, 27 Hydref 2022

My Lords, with the blurring of edges between physical, digital and virtual as technology advances into the metaverse and Web3, the committee is right to demand an immediate setting of standards. To commend the members of the committee would be an understatement; I express my admiration for what is a thorough examination of this plethora of subjects.

Freedom of speech in any context is a valiant aspiration. The fact is that each aspect of our freedom has consequences and impact. None of us should be entitled to a set of freedoms that disregards the well-being of others, or that is detrimental to others and predicated on harms to others. In the absence of defining a set of boundaries and values for that freedom, we will certainly need to consider guidance, although exploring the parameters of what common values can be regulated and safeguarded without defining them is a problem.

I am chair of the APPG on the Metaverse and Web 3.0. We have recently conducted meetings with the leading innovators and entrepreneurs in this space, those who are transitioning from Web2 to Web3 within the emerging technologies. Their overall view is that it is vast and fast in this decentralised space, and that we may be running late to regulate the industry. It is important to prevent conglomerates, elite one-man bandwagons like Facebook, Google and Twitter, becoming the key holders of our data and the future of our young, without including them as stakeholders and entrepreneurs within the sector, and we are already at an advanced stage of building systems without any recourse to accountability and transparency. The concerns are well laid out in the report on page 19, with the evidence presented to the committee. Our APPG wishes to add to the committee’s work by bringing together practitioners, academics and NGOs who are cognisant of the impact on young people playing Roblox, or vulnerable young people stuck in virtual reality.

The possibility of innovation being a common good for society is immense, as I experienced this week with a WPP event where I stepped into a virtual world of Singapore and South Africa. It was a powerful experience, but nothing can replace experiencing the countries’ air, beauty and interactions with people.

Even in this new, decentralised arena, inclusion is not a reality for those who may most benefit from, and need, support, virtual or otherwise. The report eloquently emphasises the issues of content, but without an acceptable definition of false or harmful content it would be difficult for Ofcom or other regulatory bodies to take any actions. Use of Facebook by the Burmese extremists to spread hate against the Rohingyas may have assisted the brutal murder, torture and rape of hundreds of thousands of people. The Rohingyas have filed a suit against Facebook; no one knows what the outcome will be. Closer to home, the dirty tactics of Cambridge Analytica remind us that the world is an advertiser’s oyster when the selling of our data goes without adequate public knowledge and education.

I recently tried to buy a photobook for my grandchildren on Google, and when it came for the time to pay, suddenly a pop-up said, “All your data, including email contact, will be available”. I was rather disturbed; I was flabbergasted. It seems that anything is acceptable in this space. I find the intrusion from one purchasing one item rather unnerving, to say the least, and members of the public may be unwittingly agreeing to things without informed consent, with data often being sold onwards.

I have much to add on the social impact of this matter. Suffice it to say that, as a child protection officer, my antennae are permanently engaged on exploitation of children and vulnerable adults. I have witnessed too many times the devastating effect of child sexual abuse and exposure to pornography. The digital space is open for paedophiles to go beyond current imagination, allowing them to create a virtual reality of children raping children and of extreme violence against women, not to mention the demonisation of certain religious groups and women—these are alarmingly rampant. A witness to the committee has highlighted many of these.

It is refreshing that young developers and innovators are all too keenly aware of the issues, and I am confident that their work is a good example. They are very keen to work in partnership with institutions and government, as well as NGOs, and many are acutely aware of their responsibility.