The week in tech: Brexit Withdrawal Agreement draft

What does the latest draft Brexit agreement mean for techs?

Theresa May has struck a Brexit draft agreement with the EU; it’s divided opinion but she’s determined to see it through. As #BrexitChoas and #BrexitShambles trend on Twitter, a host of her ministers have resigned, and the value of the pound has dropped.

The deal is not yet set in stone, it needs to be ratified by the UK Parliament and the EU Parliaments,  all the while May risks facing a potential leadership challenge and a vote of no-confidence. However, as the 585-page draft stands now, it reveals what Brexit could mean for the tech sector, and not everyone is against it.

Under May’s latest proposal free trade will be allowed to continue between the EU and the UK until the end of the transition period, scheduled in late 2020, but there is a possibility of an extension. This means companies can trade with the EU without having to worry about tariffs and other regulations.

One of the key concerns around Brexit for the tech sector has been the UK’s ability to attract high-skilled global talent. The tech sector has a higher proportion of non-UK nationals working in it than most other sectors. If the UK leaves without a deal these workers might lose their leave to remain status. The draft withdrawal agreement grants this status to EU tech workers.

As Brexit advances what impact will it have on UK tech?

As the Brexit deal nears an uncertain conclusion, what will the impact of the deal have on the UK’s technology scene?

The draft also secures the free flow of personal data between the UK and the EU. This is a critical issue for the tech sector and to most industries in a modern digitising economy like this.

techUK, the UK’s technology trade association, have called on MPs to back the Withdrawal Agreement, arguing that it would avoid the “very dangerous” consequences of a no-deal Brexit.

Julian David, CEO of techUK, said: “The proposed agreement would avoid the very dangerous consequences of no deal and provides a basis on which to secure a comprehensive deal on the UK’s future relationship during the implementation period. techUK particularly welcomes the clear statement of intent to secure the free flow of personal data between the UK and the EU.

“Failing to confirm Parliamentary agreement risks creating even more uncertainty for tech businesses, their staff and their customers. As a sector responsible for over a million jobs, and the fastest growing part of the UK economy, we recognise that a No Deal would directly impact the ability of tech companies to trade, move data and secure talent. It would disrupt supply chains and undermine the UK’s capability for world-leading science and research. It would hit investment and lead to job losses. We believe small and medium-sized businesses would be worst affected in the case of no deal.”

However, techUK does not believe the proposal is perfect. “It will increase friction in trade with the EU and impose significant and costly changes for businesses,” explained David.

techUK is concerned that the implementation period is not long enough to secure the kind of comprehensive relationship required and welcomes the ability within the Withdrawal Agreement to extend that implementation period.

She added: “Nevertheless, the Withdrawal Agreement offers a vastly better alternative than a chaotic No Deal exit from the EU.

“The Withdrawal Agreement is only the first step in securing the long-term outcome that tech businesses need. Should Parliament confirm the Withdrawal Agreement, the Government must focus on securing a comprehensive long-term partnership with the EU. Significant additional work is needed to provide clarity in the future relationship, specifically on securing close alignment and comprehensive market access for digital and telecoms services. This will require Government to work much more closely with businesses. A simple Free Trade Agreement would not deliver the needs of the tech industry or the UK economy.”

The GDPR and Brexit

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However, these comments have not been echoed by everyone in the tech sector. TechCrunch Mike Butcher editor argued on Twitter: “The tech industry I know does NOT support the Withdrawal Agreement, and 500 signatories concur.”


Butcher also launched a campaign calling for the tech sector to sign a letter supporting a People’s Vote, with the option to remain in the EU. Butcher claims that the letter already has 500 signatures.

The letter states: “It is our view that the government’s “Withdrawal Agreement and Political Agreement on leaving the European Union” will not serve the best interests of the UK tech industry. It will vastly increase friction in trade with the EU and impose significant and costly changes for the tech industry.

“Leaving the EU’s customs union, single market, Digital Single Market, VAT area and regulatory framework (in whole or part) will tear apart the bedrock on which our industry operates and cause us grave harm.

“Brexit is already causing serious uncertainty, raising costs and threatening future red tape. Post-Brexit, our products and companies face the real risk of becoming hard to create, fund and distribute globally, especially in the vast market of the EU.”

Google ‘betrays patient trust’ with the NHS

Google has been accused of breaking patient trust after it announced it would be moving DeepMind Health, a healthcare-focused subsidary, into the main arm of the organisation.

But why is this controversial you ask? Well, critics are arguing this breaks a pledge DeepMind made when it first started working with the NHS. In plain black and white, they said “data will never be connected to Google accounts and services”. Google says the restructure is needed in order to allow DeepMind’s health app, Streams, scale up globally.

A spokesperson from DeepMind said: “Our vision is for Streams to now become an AI-powered assistant for nurses and doctors everywhere – combining the best algorithms with intuitive design, all backed up by rigorous evidence. The team working within Google, alongside brilliant colleagues from across the organisation, will help make this vision a reality.”

But this has not gone down well with critics. Privacy researcher, Julia Powles tweeted: “Making this about semantics is a sleight of hand. DeepMind said it’d never connect Streams with Google. The whole Streams app is now a Google product!! That is an atrocious breach of trust, for an already beleaguered product.”

In an interview with CNBC on Tuesday, DeepMind asserted that it will not be be sharing health information with Google. A spokesperson told CNBC: “We’re fully committed to all our NHS partners, and to delivering on our current projects and more,” they said. Under Google Health, the team will continue to work closely with the NHS and “information governance and safety remain our top priorities.”.

According to CNBC, DeepMind also reiterated that patient data would remain under the control of these partners. They also said that the data will continue to be subject to “strict audit and access controls and its processing remains subject to both our contracts and data protection legislation.”

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Google’s blunder: Nothing to see here

Making its second appearance in the week in tech, on Monday, Google’s data for search and cloud services went astray thanks to a supposed human error led to all Google IP traffic going through China and Russia. Nigeria telco MainOne Cable where the problem is believed to have originated, claims the data was sent the wrong way when their address books for key network hardware were updated.

MainOne tweeted that the mistake had been made during a “planned network upgrade”. It added: “The error was corrected within 74 minutes and processes put in place to avoid reoccurrence.”

Later on Monday web company Cloudflare was hit by a second MainOne Cable mistake that also saw much of its traffic re-routed.

In a statement, Matthew Prince, chief executive of Cloudflare, stated that the mistake had probably been made as a result of a network meeting in Nigeria in early November.

Mark Zuckerberg: “Delay, deny and deflect”

A damning report from the New York Times, based on interviews with more than 50 insiders, which portraits Facebook as an organisation failing to play politics, struggling to tackle a series of scandals, from Russian interference to negligence towards user data protection, has renewed questions on whether or not Mark Zuckerberg should have so much control.

According to the Times, leading executives from the social media giant reportedly passed off security and policy decisions, hushed up about internal audits into platform problems, and brought in a PR firm to push conspiracy theories to deflect controversies.

Mark Zuckerberg is both chairman and chief executive of Facebook, to many, this gives him too much power over a public company, the report also fuels the question whether or not he is up to the job.

Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg also stands accused of launching what the paper calls an “aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation”.

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The report states: “Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.”

Facebook’s board of directors issued a public statement defending the company’s efforts in fighting Russian election meddling efforts following the 2016 presidential election. It also slammed the story for being “grossly unfair.”

Here’s the Full statement:

“As Mark and Sheryl made clear to Congress, the company was too slow to spot Russian interference, and too slow to take action. As a board we did indeed push them to move faster. But to suggest that they knew about Russian interference and either tried to ignore it or prevent investigations into what had happened is grossly unfair. In the last eighteen months Facebook, with the full support of this board, has invested heavily in more people and better technology to prevent misuse of its services, including during elections. As the U.S. mid-term showed, they have made considerable progress and we support their continued to efforts to fight abuse and improve security.”

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Andrew Ross

As a reporter with Information Age, Andrew Ross writes articles for technology leaders; helping them manage business critical issues both for today and in the future

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