In 2024, we will see courts and regulators around the world demonstrate that tech exceptionalism, when it comes to the applicability of legal rules, is magical thinking. The tide has already started to turn on the assumption that law and regulation cannot keep up with technological innovation. But, in 2024, the sea change will come: not through new rules, but by old rules being applied aggressively to new problems.
In the United States, in the absence of federal privacy legislation, regulators have already started to repurpose laws and rules they do have at their disposal to address some of the most egregious examples of Big Tech playing fast and loose with our rights and personal data. In 2023, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) continued to expand the regulatory heft of consumer protection regulations.
It took on the problem of dark patterns—deceptive design used by apps and websites to trick users into doing something that they didn’t intend to, like buying or subscribing to something—with a half-billion-dollar fine against Fortnite maker Epic Games. The FTC also issued massive fines to Amazon for significant breaches of privacy through Alexa and Ring doorbell devices. There are no signs that, in 2024, the FTC will slow down, with rules in the pipeline to govern commercial surveillance and digital security. In 2024, we’ll see regulators in other fields and other parts of the world follow suit, bolstered by the FTC’s successes.
In 2022, the French Data Protection Authority, the CNIL, fined Clearview AI a record €20 million (around $21.9 million) for failure to comply with an earlier 2021 ruling, which had ordered the company to stop collecting and using data of persons on French territory. Further overdue penalties will be racking up in the millions of euros in 2023. In 2024, we will see regulators such as the CNIL taking more radical legal steps to show that no company is above the law.
OpenAI’s CEO, Sam Altman, started 2023 with a call for global AI regulation, but balked at the actual prospect of EU regulation in the shape of the EU AI Act. While AI doomers asked for a pause on innovation to allow regulation to catch up, regulators including the Italian DPA found ways to clip their wings by stopping ChatGPT on their territory, albeit temporarily, with existing regulations. Ongoing intellectual property lawsuits, such as the one against Microsoft which charges the company to have illegally used code created by others, may well result in a turbulent 2024 for the fundamental business model of generative AI.
It is not only the individual impacts of technology that courts and regulators have in their sights. In 2024, they will also be considering the impacts on society, markets, and businesses. For instance, antitrust actions in the US and the EU launched in 2023 call into question Google’s dominance in the ad tech market, potentially shaking the monolithic logic of the programmatic advertising model that has helped create the internet as we know it today.
In 2024, we will see the regulatory void long enjoyed by Big Tech come to an end. While new laws and regulations like the AI Act, the Digital Services Act, and the Digital Markets Act in the EU start to take shape, courts and regulators will continue to apply existing law and regulation to the new ways that technology affects our daily lives. We will see the full panoply of legal tools coming to meet the challenges. Human rights and civil liberties law, competition law, consumer rights law, intellectual property, defamation, tort, employment law, and a plethora of other fields will be engaged to tackle the real-life harms already being caused by existing technology, including AI.