IGF 2021 WS #169 Regulating digital platforms from and for the Global South

Time
Thursday, 9th December, 2021 (10:15 UTC) - Thursday, 9th December, 2021 (11:45 UTC)
Room
Ballroom A

Organizer 1: Hartmut Richard Glaser, Brazilian Internet Steering Committee - CGI.br
Organizer 2: Henrique Faulhaber, CGI.br
Organizer 3: Alexandre Costa Barbosa, NIC.br / CGI.br
Organizer 4: Bruna Toso de Alcântara, NIC.br/CGI.br
Organizer 5: Vinicius W. O. Santos, NIC.br / CGI.br
Organizer 6: Everton T Rodrigues, NIC.br

Speaker 1: Aneta Wiewiórowska-Domagalska, Technical Community, Eastern European Group
Speaker 2: Subhashish Badra, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 3: Emmanuel Vitus, Private Sector, African Group

Additional Speakers

Renata Avila, Stanford University, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Moderator

Henrique Faulhaber, Private Sector, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Online Moderator

Alexandre Costa Barbosa, Technical Community, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Rapporteur

Vinicius W. O. Santos, Technical Community, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Format

Round Table - U-shape - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

Regulation, competition and innovation: How could regulatory and self-regulatory frameworks help foster more competitive Internet-related markets, a larger diversity of business models, and more innovation? How to enable equitable access to data, marketplaces or infrastructures for fostering competition and innovation on the Internet?
Additional Policy Questions Information: 1. Do digital platforms contribute to development? If so, how to regulate and harness platforms for social and economic inclusion?

2. Are traditional antitrust measures and competition safeguards enough to address structural digitization-related challenges of Global South countries’ economies and societies?

3. What is the role of multistakeholderism and governments from Global South countries in platform governance in order to boost digital economy and enable a more inclusive economic growth?

The evolution and expansion of big digital platforms have created profound asymmetries of power within society. Multiple stakeholders have criticized those platforms as threats to democracy, state attributions and fundamental rights. It is also an outcome of the evolving digital economy that has consolidated itself over the past two decades and has been one of the drivers of global economic development. The phenomenon of the so-called “Big Techs” or the big digital platforms has been posing concerns to the public debate, due to their economic and political power mostly based on their ability to control huge flows of data on the Internet. The business models of these companies are also grounded in data extraction practices that may cause other types of effects in society, be it towards democratic processes, economic relations or even user’s behaviors in a broader sense, pointing to transformations in society that are still difficult to analyze and explain. This is why platform regulation has been figuring among the hot topics within digital policy.

However, platform regulation is a multifaceted issue and has been approached in different ways according to regions, stakeholders and political orientations. In some places they are more bounded by hard law initiatives. Other places may focus on soft law and even in self-regulation frameworks. And, of course, there are also deregulated markets. All these initiatives range from more restrictive to more permissive contexts. Nevertheless, the way platform power is governed is determinant to how society will be shaped to face common global challenges. Platform regulation is also necessarily an economic issue. It has severe implications for development, particularly in the Global South, as it impacts society as a whole, from social interactions to economic relationships. Some regulators argue that anti-monopoly measures are enough to address negative effects of ‘Big Techs’ multidimensional powers, but to what extent they are effective to reorganize and comprehensively equalize power, economic, political and social relations is still an open question.

This session will tackle a series of issues related to the platform regulation debate, especially from a Global South perspective, as we expect not to only discuss US/EU regulation models, but mainly establish a dialogue and a space for South-to-South cooperation, so that participants can shed light on different regulation approaches from their own experiences. To guide discussions, the moderator will indicate three policy questions for participants to focus their interventions on: 1. Do digital platforms contribute to development? If so, how to regulate and harness platforms for social and economic inclusion?; 2. Are traditional antitrust measures and competition safeguards enough to address structural digitization-related challenges of Global South countries’ economies and societies?; and 3. What is the role of multistakeholderism and governments from Global South countries in platform governance in order to boost digital economy and enable a more inclusive economic growth?

The discussion around platform regulation is usually formed by at least three pillars: one more related to content and how content is restricted/moderated by platforms; another one focused on the economic regulation and rules to mitigate market imbalances; and a third one that usually focus on the actions by states, as they try to regulate by hard law any of the characteristics involved with the operation of digital platforms. In this session, the goal is to reassemble these pieces as we focus in moving forward with a broader agenda for sustainable development, trying to locate digital platforms in this scenario, their importance to people’s lives, their central role for other companies, especially SMEs, and how they are bounded by different existing frameworks. The discussion should also raise the pending gaps that must be filled to enable a more solid and just governance of these structures, also considering the potential regulations that promote demand-oriented innovation in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals, especially SDGs 8, 9, 11 and 16, also shedding light on issues related to a more inclusive economic growth.

SDGs

8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
13. Climate Action
16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Targets: The session’s focus on digital platforms fits into the broader debate of industry, innovation, and infrastructures (SDG 9) since platforms themselves are also digital infrastructures. They enable the emergence of novel services and products and support the consolidation of the quick-spreading Industry 4.0, hence directly interact with people’s lives in the Digital Era, consequently raising a series of social issues. In this sense, power asymmetry and governance frameworks will be extended in the debate towards better-shaped institutions (SDG 16). The session also aims to shed light on market imbalances and ways to tackle them and therefore encompasses the idea of promoting decent work and economic growth (SDG 8). Finally, both the goals of sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11) and climate action (SDG 13) will be covered since demand-led innovation will also be addressed as a regulatory principle and also the role of governments.

Description:

The big digital platforms, represented mainly by private companies from developed countries, have achieved unprecedented market value and have come to possess a type of power not yet understood, and that ends up leading governments and international organizations to mobilize themselves in seek of alternatives to regulate such companies. However, addressing the complexity and risks of regulating digital platforms is not something uniform or perfectly established worldwide, posing a need for new strategies and models that could better serve the multiple characteristics and demands from countries and peoples. Therefore, in this session participants will discuss the nature of digital platforms' power by analyzing how the economic aspect is necessarily related to the political, cultural and social ones, and therefore content moderation, antitrust and development policy are intrinsically related. The focus will be given to countries from the Global South, as we expect not to only discuss US/EU regulation models, but mainly establish a dialogue and a space for South-to-South cooperation, so that participants can shed light on different regulation approaches from their own experiences.

Expected Outcomes

This proposal is part of a broader work being done within the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee – CGI.br and its Working Group on Platform Regulation. As an outcome of the Working Group, the goal is to consolidate recommendations regarding regulatory frameworks for digital platforms that take into consideration the structural challenges of countries from the Global South such as Brazil towards sustainable digital development and welfare. The key takeaways and potential recommendations that will be extracted from this session will feed a compilation of regulation proposals, considering issues of competition and industrial policy, content moderation and geographical constraints that will be made available for any interested stakeholder, and especially useful for Global South countries that are discussing their own regulations.

The session will be separated in three main segments: opening, interventions, and overarching debate with the audience. The first segment will count on a formal opening by the organizers, with a basic framing for the debate and some operational guidance to participants (max. 5 min), followed by a brief presentation from a subject-matter expert on the topic (10 min). The second segment will consist of individual interventions by speakers (max. 10 min each). The last segment will consist of an overarching debate with audience and speakers. For this final part, questions from the Q&A will be gathered by the online moderator and given to the onsite moderator, who will select and distribute them among the speakers. Finally, the moderator will direct audience and the panelists to their final considerations or conclusions.

It is important to highlight that during the session the onsite moderator will be responsible for organizing the interventions and interacting with the speakers to ensure that the goals of the session will be sought appropriately, and also safeguarding the due balance to meet diversity expectations within the interventions, either by the speakers or the audience. The online moderator will be the one taking care of the flow within all the online tools involved with the session, as well as read, select and guarantee that the onsite moderator will be aware of questions and comments received by the remote audience (Zoom Chat and Q&A, Hashtags in social networks like Twitter, among others). Moreover, as this workshop will have mainly online participants, a proper interaction between online and physical audience will be ensured by the onsite moderator, the online moderator, and also by an onsite facilitator that will be present at the venue in Katowice to help coordinate these interactions. The rapporteur will make sure to capture all the highlights and critical information of the session so as to list key takeaways for the short report and consolidate a further final report to be delivered to the IGF Secretariat. The organization team will also be alert to help participants in any technical issue and/or delays they may have so as to not negatively impact the session dynamics.

Online Participation

Usage of IGF Official Tool. Additional Tools proposed: The session will rely primarily on the IGF official tools, such as Zoom Q&A, Polling, and Chat, as well as the online queue for participants. The online moderator will also monitor Hashtags in social networks such as Twitter. Other tools that may be used are, but not limited to: Slido or smilar tools to organize questions; Kahoot, Mentimeter or similar online quiz tools; Jamboard or other collaborative brainstorming tools.

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Market and Society are being reshaped by online platforms. In this sense online platforms are gaining power in the digital world, generating high impact torughout the globe especially on the Global South. These impacts may be either positive or negative, depending on the local reality. Thus it is necessary to focus on a multistakeholder approach, harmonization of standards with an inclusive view, and a more uniform approach to be sought.

Any type of regulation must observe the needs and safeguards for Human Rights, Freedom of Speech and Privacy protections for individuals, regardless of the regulation model and according to local realities, regulations and specific regional constraints, towards a more salutary local development and inclusive growth.

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

The Society as a whole must start to think and to streamline what would be a potential post-platform future, in which society can recover from the high dependency and concentration of Platforms, recalling autonomy and digital sovereignty.

All stakeholders must work together so as to boost local growth and development of the different countries and regions, bearing in mind the necessary increase in investments from big platforms to fostering local SMEs and improving local realities.

Session Report (* deadline Monday 20 December) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

This workshop was organized by the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee - CGI.br and had the focus on how digital labor around the world are aligned with the international frameworks for decent work. The session was moderated by Mr. Henrique Faulhaber, and had the following participants:

- Aneta Wiewiórowska-Domagalska, Technical Community, Osnabrück University, Eastern European Regional Group

- Renata Avila, Civil Society, Executive Director - Open Knowledge; Latin American and Caribbean Group

- Subhashish Bhadra, Civil Society, Principal - Omidyar Network, Asia-Pacific Group

- Emmanuel Vitus, Private Sector, Executive Director - AW Free, African Group

- Agustina Ordoñez, Technical Community, Yale University, Latin American and Caribbean Group

The session had an introduction and closure by the moderator and three main segments: a first segment in which a subject-matter expert made a presentation on the most well-known current discussion on the issue, which is the case of the European Union; a second segment in which speakers presented their views on the topic and framed the discussion from a Global South point of view; and a third in which the discussion followed with an overarching debate with the audience. The moderator received questions from online and onsite audiences and directed some of them to the round-table.

To guide the discussions, the moderator posed the following policy questions to participants:

  1. Which are the main aspects that should be taken into account when regulating digital platforms to promote social and economic inclusion?

  2. Are traditional antitrust measures and competition safeguards enough to address structural digitization/data-related challenges of Global South countries’ economies and societies?

  3. What is the role of multistakeholderism and governments from Global South countries in platform governance in order to boost digital economy and enable a more inclusive economic growth?

The questions were reasonably covered by participants’ interventions, especially questions 1 and 3. Other than that, participants addressed topics that derived from the presentations, questions from the audience and also additional questions from the moderator.

 1st speaker: Aneta Wiewiórowska-Domagalska, Technical Community, Osnabrück University, Eastern European Regional Group

Dr Aneta started with a broad vision from a Private Lawyer perspective. She pondered how platforms have been shaping Markets and the world in general. The difference within platform economy is that Market is reshaped by online platforms, which are comprised of, among other elements, gatekeepers and private regulation. The platforms themselves put on rules to the ecosystem. A type of economy strongly based on data collection and usage, with major harms to online privacy, other than the use of AI and other tools, with social and political impacts. The result is that platforms are “quasi state”, taking on the position of enforcers. Aneta quoted a set of regulations, such as the GDPR and a regulation to fight online terrorist content. For her, it is not sufficient, given that systemic risks can not be handled nationally. The regulations available are scattered and there’s a lack of coordination in this sense. She also noted the complexity of power struggle in the field.

 2nd speaker: Renata Avila, Civil Society, Executive Director - Open Knowledge; Latin American and Caribbean Group

Ms Renata Avila started her intervention recalling the history of debates over the Internet and the evolution of the Internet itself. She made a comparison between the introduction of cars within the Global South and the introduction of smartphones in people’s lives, events that caused major changes in society organization. She pointed out how we have got increasingly dependent on Platforms within the digital world where a platform or app is the default option to connect. In this sense, she called upon everyone to think of the possibility of a post-platform future, recovering from dependency and recalling the autonomy of individuals and peoples. She also pointed out the impact of platforms on society, shedding light to the way in which platforms in the end socialize the costs of their operations but not the profits. Platforms took advantage of digitization and do not contribute to society, besides avoiding public law in general. In a reality check exercise, she recalled how small and micro enterprises and poorest people from the Latin America and the Caribbean Region depend absolutely on 4 or 5 platforms to make their living. She also pondered that regulation seems to be impossible and that it might be necessary to think of a post-platform online structure, where small players can have a voice without being steamrolled by tech giants, recalling autonomy and digital sovereignty.

 3rd speaker: Subhashish Bhadra, Civil Society, Principal - Omidyar Network, Asia-Pacific Group

Mr Subhashish Bhadra initiated his intervention underlining the increasing adoption of Internet tools within society, especially platforms like Whatsapp and Facebook, mainly through mobile connections. He pondered the complex relationship of platforms and individuals, especially due to the date extraction model. He underscored the overall predominance of traditional Big Tech companies within the reality of India. The companies act as moderators themselves and are embedded in people’s lives. Subhashish raised the issue of local-based platforms as means for local development. He stated that the platform layer should be owned by government and society, and that only the application layer should be owned by private stakeholders. He argued that government incentives to locally-based platforms and to break monopolies are important to regulation and innovation of the digital infrastructure.

4th speaker: Emmanuel Vitus, Private Sector, Executive Director - AW Free, African Group

Mr Emmanuel Vitus initiated his intervention stating that regulation is a real problem in African countries, giving examples such as cyberbullying, gender violence and others. He said that most laws enacted by the government target violence speech. Emmanuel called attention for vaguely defined concepts and processes within enacted laws and the uses and misuses of those laws by governments in the region. There is also the problem of designing one-size fits all regulations, an approach that does not work within the African context, for several reasons, including the linguistic diversity of the continent. He presented high concerns over human rights protection within these regulations and pointed out to the need of frameworks that are more inclusive to regulate platforms. He also recalled the multistakeholder approach as the guiding principle for these discussions and that this may pose difficulties for more government engagement in general.

5th speaker: Ms. Agustina Ordoñez, Technical Community, Yale University, Latin American and Caribbean Group

Ms. Agustina Ordoñez gave speech on frameworks of legislation to address the issue of regulating platforms. In terms of regulation, especially for content moderation and protection of personal data, she stated that it is necessary to guarantee human rights, freedom of speech and privacy protections, as well as to focus on the need for more investments of the platforms within the places they operate. She has also given an overview of the legislation available in Argentina, presenting examples such as data protection laws and streaming-specific rules. Agustina reinforced aspects related to content moderation aspects such as the protection to freedom of expression, respect to local legislations the enabling of users to reach platforms in different jurisdictions over concerns of their rights and/or data within these services.

 Q&A

During the Q&A, several issues were raised, either by the audience, moderator and/or speakers. Among the issues raised in this part, it is possible to highlight:

- Regulation models available and their pros and cons, such self-regulation or co-regulation;

- The impacts and effects of chosen models especially on small players within the market;

- The importance of safeguarding transparency measures within regulations

- The need for more harmonization of frameworks, respect for local laws, and multistakeholder-based public debates to advance the discussion and find better solutions.

- The answer to the change on global market is a more uniform approach, given that countries alone wil not be able to address these issues accordingly.