What has the EU done for the Internet? Remain or Leave?

Brexit anyone?With little more than 24 hours to go before the end of voting in the UK’s Referendum on Europe, you might like a few more facts to help you make your decision.

The EU has been at the forefront of changes which have both helped and hindered the Internet. So, what have they done good and bad?

The positives for the Internet

One of the biggest changes the EU pioneered, way back in the early days of the web, was the ending of proscribed browsers from computer manufacturers. In those days you were forced to use one browser or another. Now, computer manufacturers have to make choices available or allow you to install whatever you like.

Another long-time campaign from the EU is in its battle against search engines, particularly Google, introducing rules which help prevent them from dominating things and reducing competitiveness. It hasn’t always worked, but at least the EU is “on the case”.

Roaming charges for mobile device users is another area in which the EU has led the way – albeit slowly. It will cost you the same to access online data in other EU nations as it will in the UK.

The negatives for the Internet

One particular issue that the EU concerns itself with is privacy. That sounds good until you look at the bureaucratic solutions it produces. The EU Cookie Directive is a real problem. Even today, it is essentially illegal for any website in Europe to be visible until a visitor has first agreed to each cookie that will be set. The EU Cookie Directive – if fully implemented – would essentially switch off the Internet for most people.

A year ago, the EU introduced new rules about digital downloads. This either means that small businesses have to register for VAT in each nation of the EU and do VAT returns in each country. Or it means that firms have to register for “MOSS”, which is a centralised system to sort out the inter-border VAT on digital downloads. Either way, it means more work and more cost for businesses. Even the simplest arrangement requires additional accounting and two VAT returns.

Recently, the EU decided on controls on hate speech online. That is an obviously positive move. Apart from the fact that the restrictions are deemed by many to be so great that they will prevent much free speech online. Furthermore, even  though social media companies have agreed to the controls, frankly, they cannot make them work. The rules require companies to monitor their networks for hate speech and remove such items in less than 24 hours and prevent access to their systems to the perpetrators. With billions of items being added to these networks every day, there is no hope they can track everything or even locate the individuals and deal with them. A nice idea from the EU, but rather like the Cookie Directive, the solution is unworkable.

Now, we hear that the EU is planning that every citizen will require a Government ID to access the Internet. The plan is that you will not be able to go online unless you have applied for and received an ID number which you will use to access the Internet. Do you want that?

Leave or Remain?

There is no doubt that the EU has achieved a great deal for the Internet. But it has also created some significant problems for users and businesses.

The decision is yours.

Based on what the EU does for the Internet, there is only one conclusion I have been able to make over several years of following what they do; the EU does not understand the Internet. And if they don’t understand it, can they really legislate on it? But if they don’t legislate on it, who will? Is the EU making ill-informed decisions better than no decisions being made and the Internet being left to run-riot as a result?

This referendum lark isn’t plain black and white – yet that is precisely what you are being asked to decide upon.

Psychological hint for deciding…

The referendum requires you to make a decision between two things – remain or leave the EU. Psychological research shows that when we have to make decisions we end up with “decision paralysis” when we are faced with either too few choices or too many. For instance, if you wanted to buy a new car and there were 50 different ones to choose from, you would struggle. Similarly, if there were only two to choose from you would also struggle.

Much psychological research shows that we find it really easy to choose between three things. So, if the referendum had a third choice it then becomes easier for us to focus on choosing between the remaining two. One way you can therefore work out what to do – remain or leave – is to add your own third choice. Your choices could be “remain”, “leave”, “don’t decide today, give me another year”. With that third choice you’ll then find it much easier to make a decision.

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