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Peers urge competition watchdog to investigate tech giants’ use of data

The UK government and the Competition and Markets Authority should launch an investigation into the use of data by tech giants operating in Britain, according to the first parliamentary review of AI.

A 181 page report published by the House of Lords’ AI committee today welcomes investments from overseas tech firms, but warns that their “increasing consolidation of power and influence” risks damaging the UK’s AI startup sector.

“The monopolisation of data demonstrates the need for strong ethical, data protection and competition frameworks in the UK, and for continued vigilance from the regulators,” the report states.

“We urge the Government, and the Competition and Markets Authority, to review proactively the use and potential monopolisation of data by the big technology companies operating in the UK.”

The report also makes the case for positioning the UK as a leader in the ethical development of AI, and sets out five principles to guide people working in the sector.

AI should be for the common good and benefit of humanity, operate on principles of intelligibility and fairness and not diminish people’s data rights, the report says. Citizens should be educated so they can flourish alongside AI, while AI should never be trusted with the power to “hurt, destroy or deceived human beings”, it adds.

Tim Clement-Jones, the chair of the committee, said the UK contains leading AI companies, a dynamic research culture and a vigorous startup ecosystem, adding: “We should make the most of this environment, but it is essential that ethics take centre stage in AI’s development and use.”

The committee has also warned that existing liability law will not be sufficient when AI systems malfunction or cause harm, and is calling on the Law Commission to examine whether it needs updating.

However, the report does not call for blanket AI-specific regulation “at this stage”, instead suggesting that existing sector-specific regulators should assess whether further regulation may be needed. It states: “We welcome that the Data Protection Bill and GDPR appear to address many of the concerns of our witnesses regarding the handling of personal data, which is key to the development of AI.

“The Government Office for AI, with the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, needs to identify the gaps, if any, where existing regulation may not be adequate.”

When the committee launched last year, Lord Clement-Jones told NS Tech: “Artificial intelligence is one of the most important issues of the age; it’s time that parliamentarians got to grips with it.”

TechUK’s Sue Daley suggests the report’s authors have done exactly that: “This is an important contribution to current thinking. At a time when some are questioning the ability of politicians to keep pace with tech this report proves that policy makers can get to grips with big issues like AI.”