Who would have thought the internet industry and the automotive industry would have so much in common.
Businesses hate regulation. Always have. Product safety regulations have long been the most visible and contentious. The conflicts over regulation have spawned lawsuits, laws, threats, conspiracy theories and government agencies galore.
The automotive industry has been one of the most noticeable recipient of safety of regulation. The prevalence of cars, complexity of the product, variety of its configurations, speed of operation and potential for deadly interactions with the public makes this understandable, in hindsight.
The automotive industry has resisted regulations for crash safety, fuel economy and emission controls. Often cited reasons for opposing these initiatives include the impact it will have on the cost of production, insufficient technology to implement the rule and lack of public support for the new regulations.
The funny part is, both sides were right. The need for emission controls and higher automotive efficiency were both critical and, as it turns out, not unrelated. However because of underdeveloped technology in both areas, the ideas were, from a practical standpoint, in opposition. It took about 15 years to begin reconciling that conflict. Some would say they remain unresolved.
A remarkably similar scenario now faces the internet industry. The internet is shepherded by large companies. It is complex, fast-moving, and has elements within its structure which can cause serious harm in the wrong circumstances.
Private citizens and community advocates have long been calling for more progress on making the internet safer. Companies have been saying the level control desired will strangle the usefulness of their products, if it is possible at all. Out of frustration, Governments have decided to reach for preemptive and possibly unrealistic regulatory demands.
No one is considering that they all may be right. Government may well have justification in feeling it needs to compel change, and not be terribly reasonable about it. Companies know better than anyone what is and is not possible and the level of effort it will take to achieve what they are being mandated. The public remains confused, often victimized and feeling that they are being left out of the process except in the most extreme or high profile cases.
It is time for the internet and all its stakeholders to mature a bit. All industry regulations have had phase in cycles, scheduled compliance deadlines and often extensions. Why is the internet different? Most industries have established self regulatory bodies who file reports on objectives and efforts for meeting regulatory and safety benchmarks. Why is the internet different? Almost all industries have consistent policies regarding how they will respond to the public on consumer safety issues. Why is the internet different?
We live in a world where the idea of being safe from toxic contamination does not only apply to food, air, water or soil. We have a problem that requires our very best ideas, demands both short and long term goals and tied to coordinated action. Or we can continue to be evasive and obstinate, and suffer the consequences.