Should tech companies be subject to an "obligation to consult"?

Every now and again, I get involved in debates which entail a view that (some? all? dominant? or just ones doing things they don't like) tech companies should have an "obligation to consult" imposed on them.

I have no wish to put words into anyone's mouth, but I am sceptical that many people who say that they want an "obligation to consult" actually want "an obligation to consult".

I suspect that what some actually want is considerably more than that.

Two points to note:

  • Is this all a big straw man? Perhaps. Until one-line claims are fleshed out, it's hard to know!
  • Different people have different motivations and interests. Not everyone will share the same views, or be coming at it from the same angle. If you've said that you favour an "obligation to consult" and don't recognise any of the below, that's fine!

Do they really mean "an obligation to consult"?

I expect that at least some mean that:

  • they want to be consulted.
    • lots of organisations take feedback on their plans as part of normal business operations. The complaint, I expect, is not a lack of consultation, but that the people they want to be consulted were not consulted.
  • the consultation must meet their requirements for a consultation.
    • this is similar to the point above, as I expect at least some want obligations over how the organisation must consult, when it must happen, whether responses must be kept private, and so on.
  • the organisation must read all the responses, and ask follow-up questions / engage further.

Or do they mean an obligation to design products/services to support their use cases?

I may be wrong - see the "straw man" warning at the top - but I think at least some mean, when they say that there should be an "obligation to consult", that organisations should ensure that their specific use case is supported.

An obligation for private companies to bend product roadmaps to suit their goals, even where those goals harm, or conflict, with the objectives of the organisation in question.

And that's a different beast entirely.

Should tech companies have to do that? It strikes me that there's a debate to be had there, and that it's a hugely complex issue, especially when we are talking about private organisations and not entities of the state.

But let's not dress it up as an "obligation to consult" if what is meant is something far, far more demanding and intrusive.


Author: neil

I'm Neil. By day, I run a law firm, decoded.legal, giving advice on Internet, telecoms, and tech law. This is my personal blog, so will be mostly about tech stuff, cycling, and other hobbies.