I’m David Meyer, a Berlin-based writer for Fortune, standing in for Alan today as he begins a well-earned week of vacation.
The inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, has suggested that his creation could do with more regulation. In particular, Berners-Lee is worried about the web being “weaponized” in order to spread conspiracy theories, “stoke social tensions” through the use of fake social media accounts, and steal people’s personal data.
“We’ve looked to the platforms themselves for answers. Companies are aware of the problems and are making efforts to fix them—with each change they make affecting millions of people. The responsibility—and sometimes burden—of making these decisions falls on companies that have been built to maximize profit more than to maximize social good. A legal or regulatory framework that accounts for social objectives may help ease those tensions,” he wrote in an open letter to mark the web’s 29th birthday.
Berners-Lee has sounded off about these issues before, though it’s unusual for him to call for more regulation on this front. In last year’s letter, the engineer urged Google and Facebook to fight against misinformation “while avoiding the creation of any central bodies to decide what is ‘true or not.'”
A lot has changed in the last year, with most people now accepting that Russia used the big online platforms to at least try to undermine the 2016 U.S. elections. An Axios-SurveyMonkey poll a couple weeks back suggested that the American public has in recent months—for the first time—switched on to the idea that regulating Big Tech might actually be a good thing.
The looming question now is how to deal with the issue without clashing with the First Amendment (though some argue it does not apply to the big platforms) and without encouraging online giants to take down information without proper scrutiny. Europe is trying to be ahead of the game when it comes to tackling “fake news,” but so far nobody there has come up with workable solutions, either.
It’s worth remembering that Berners-Lee is highlighting a deeper issue here, too. The root of the problem, he says, is that too much power has been concentrated in the hands of too few online corporations. Because “a handful of platforms…control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared,” he says, they’re ripe for co-opting.
Whatever the solutions to these platform problems might be, if they’re going to work, they may need to be more than merely cosmetic.
More news below.
Saudi Aramco IPO
British officials say the much-anticipated initial public offering for Saudi Aramco is unlikely to go ahead this year, as had been planned. London is vying with other financial capitals to be the venue for the oil firm’s IPO. According to a Financial Times report, Saudi Aramco’s advisors are having trouble achieving the $2 trillion valuation that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is looking for. FT
Markets Up on Jobs Data
Markets in Asia and Europe have risen after a U.S. jobs report showed an increase in wages, but not so much as to stoke inflation fears. U.S. equity futures are also up. So is the yen, but that may be partly due to a political controversy that threatens Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (his name and those of his wife and his finance minister were deleted from documents relating to a land scandal). Abe’s economic policy has long involved a weak yen. Bloomberg
UBS in Hong Kong
UBS has revealed an 18-month suspension, levied by the Hong Kong securities regulator, that bars it from leading initial public offerings there. However, the company sent an internal memo to staff saying that it was “business as usual” while UBS appeals the suspension and its accompanying $15 million fine. UBS has not said what led to the fine and suspension. Reuters
A Bangladeshi plane crashed near Kathmandu airport in Nepal on Monday as it was coming in to land. The plane was carrying 67 passengers and four crew members, and early reports say that there are 50 people dead. The plane, which reportedly “caught fire after it careened off the runway during landing,” belongs to U.S.-Bangla Airlines, a private company based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Al-Jazeera
Around the Water Cooler
The White House’s proposals for tackling mass shootings include the funding of firearms training for teachers, but not the raising of the age limit for buying assault rifles from 18 to 21, as President Donald Trump had publicly suggested. Other measures in the plan include improvements to background and mental health checks, and the encouragement of military veterans and retired cops to go into teaching. BBC
Investors are cutting their exposure to risk, according to a Wall Street Journal piece. The markets may have enjoyed a bull run for the last nine years, but after two years of a “not-too-hot, not-too-cool trading environment,” volatility and inflation fears are leading fund managers to diversify their portfolios and hedge against a possible sharp fall in the equity markets over the coming few months. WSJ
The Bank of International Settlements thinks China is one of the countries most likely to suffer a banking crisis, due to its debt and the high level of its debt servicing ratio. In its quarterly review, the bank also said that Canada and Hong Kong were at risk of banking crises, partly due to an increase in property prices. However, it was keen to stress than it wasn’t saying any of these three countries were definitely heading for a crisis. CNBC
Noted tech industry skeptic Evgeny Morozov has written an interesting piece detailing how the tech industry is increasingly in the hands of “massive funds, with billions to spend and often linked to governments” such as those of the Middle East. Europe will lose out, he says, as China and the U.S. are increasingly resisting the purchase of their top companies by sovereign wealth funds, leaving Europe’s crown jewels exposed. Guardian