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We're making same mistakes with Big Tech as we did with banks, says ex-HSBC chief

James Cook
·2 min read
Former HSBC chief executive John Flint - AFP
Former HSBC chief executive John Flint - AFP

Large technology companies have grown too large and too vital to escape proper regulation and pose a similar systemic threat to the economy as banks did prior to the 2008 financial crisis, a former chief executive of HSBC has said.

John Flint, who ran the global bank between 2018 and 2019, believes that the potential impact of a failure of major technology companies like Apple and Google is “now just as grave as that from financial services,” he wrote in the Financial Times.

“The financial crisis taught us that careful oversight is needed when the public interest is dependent on businesses that exist to meet the needs of private capital providers,” Mr Flint wrote.

The former HSBC chief executive called for greater powers beyond the creation of the Digital Markets Unit inside the Competition and Markets Authority and the upcoming online harms bill. “It all sounds worryingly vague,” he wrote.

“I can confidently say that for tech companies, the warning signs are showing. We must act now,” he continued.

Mr Flint’s concerns have been echoed by a number of organisations worried about the growing power of major technology companies and the UK’s seeming inability to properly police their actions.

Earlier this year, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) called for the creation of a UK digital regulator in light of the increasing reliance on digital tools during the coronavirus pandemic.

The IPPR warned that policy changes will not be enough and urged the country to also take control of data instead of allowing it to be funnelled to American technology businesses.

There are also concerns that the upcoming duty of care due to be introduced in the UK will be ineffective, leaving businesses free to “run rings around the Government,” a group of Peers warned Boris Johnson in October.

European Union regulators have increased their scrutiny of major technology businesses in recent years under the leadership of competition chief Margrethe Vestager who has levied billions of pounds in fines against businesses such as Apple and Google.