In a perfect world, regulation would advance at the speed of innovation. In the real world, though, regulators often struggle to keep up with tech-enabled disruption while impatient innovators push forward without guidance.
It’s not as black and white as innovators versus gatekeepers, however. There are plenty of stakeholders involved in the delicate ecosystem governing emerging technologies. Tools like open-source collaboration and A/B testing are paving the way for better, smoother collaboration between countries, corporations, and consumers. With these tools at their disposal, regulatory agencies have new feedback loops to manage.
Here’s a look at the regulatory track of three emerging technologies, as well as an update on where they stand.
Data is a four-letter word in debates about online privacy—particularly when it comes to how companies use consumers’ information for advertising purposes.
Around the world, agencies that range from the US’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) offer guidelines for standards, disclosures, and privacy protocols. Though specific regulations differ from region to region, one thing is constant: Keeping pace with ad tech, data security, and consumer privacy is a constant challenge.
Current status: Regulation is ongoing and in flux. Marketers and brands on the cutting-edge of mobile ad tech are typically several steps ahead of regulators when it comes to developing algorithms and collecting data. As high-profile data breaches become increasingly common and concerns over user privacy hit fever pitch, regulators are hitting advertisers with a heavier hand.
The past few years have seen extreme volatility in the price of cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin’s value reached more than $19,000 at its peak in mid-December of 2017, then dropped more than $6,000 over the following two weeks. In the past year, there’s been an uptick in cryptocurrency regulation and initial coin offerings (ICOs) in countries like China, South Korea, and the US. The spread, scope, and volatility of cryptocurrencies has incited growing concern around fraud, theft, and price manipulation.
Current status: Crypto is to supposed have an innate, self-regulatory mechanism due to its distributed nature—but high-stakes hacks and concerns about volatility and price manipulation are calling that logic into question. Today, cryptocurrency is still largely considered a digital Wild West in terms of regulation.
On-demand car services propelled the rise of the sharing or gig economy. But they were not welcomed by the traditional—and highly regulated—taxi industry, which initiated protests and litigation around the world. Advocates argue that ridesharing services improve consumer welfare, exemplify modern innovation, and diversify the transportation market for a modern, app-integrated world.
Current status: The tech-versus-transportation-company argument is at the core of the debate about car-sharing platforms. While these companies have seen a number of wins in the US, the recent decision by the highest court in the EU may have implications for the future of on-demand car services internationally. Since last fall, when the company named a new CEO, Uber has initiated an effort to forge better relationships with regulators. This could set the tone for other industry players to follow suit.
As with any evolving ecosystem, maintaining harmony between innovation and regulation is a process of constant iteration, and the importance of balance cannot be overstated. Regulating too early or too harshly risks hindering growth, and regulating too late or too lightly often means that innovation takes on a life of its own—which can lead to abuse that can be difficult to curtail.
Rather than relying on outdated bureaucracy, today’s regulators might take a page out of the book of the very technologies they hope to sway by beta testing regulations, sandboxing small segments of innovation as a litmus test, turning to crowdsourced Q&A, and relying upon consumer data and demand to decide how, when, and where to exercise control over technology. By experimenting with more malleable methodologies, governing bodies may be able to shed the perception of regulation as a monolith—and achieve the balance and agility that will be so crucial to the future of our brave new world.
This article was produced on behalf of Deloitte Global by Quartz Creative and not by the Quartz Editorial staff.