IGF 2021 WS #175 Clash of Digital Civilizations: Governments and Tech Giants

Time
Thursday, 9th December, 2021 (12:50 UTC) - Thursday, 9th December, 2021 (13:50 UTC)
Room
Conference Room 6

Organizer 1: Lucien M. CASTEX, AFNIC
Organizer 2: Anna Dupan, Higher School of Economics
Organizer 3: David Otujor Okpatuma , Friends for Leadership
Organizer 4: Mary Lou Rissa Cunanan, Suyomano
Organizer 5: Roman Chukov, Center for Global IT-Cooperation

Speaker 1: Roberto Zambrana, Technical Community, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 2: Hariniombonana ANDRIAMAMPIONONA, Technical Community, African Group
Speaker 3: Patrick Penninckx, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization
Speaker 4: Mary Lou Rissa Cunanan, Private Sector, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 5: Lucien M. CASTEX, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Moderator
Anna Dupan, Intergovernmental Organization, Eastern European Group
Online Moderator
David Otujor Okpatuma, Intergovernmental Organization, African Group
Rapporteur
Roman Chukov, Civil Society, Eastern European Group
Format

Round Table - Circle - 60 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?

Data governance and trust, globally and locally: What is needed to ensure that existing and future national and international data governance frameworks are effective in mandating the responsible and trustworthy use of data, with respect for privacy and other human rights?

Targets: Discussing digital platforms, prospects of their respective regulation and data privacy is rather impossible without full engagement of the civil, private, technical and governmental sectors in dialogue(17.17). Resisting the destructive and dangerous content on the Internet will not be effective if the national legislators fail to provide the necessary legal instruments and techniques for that (16a). Moreover, the rule of law ought to prevail when considering access to information, in accordance with national legislations and international agreements (16.10) which does not allow digital platforms to restrict information flows on the basis of internal policies and decisions. But the triumph of the rule of law requires creation and maintenance of transparent institutes on all levels of Internet governance(16.6), especially when dealing with such matters as data privacy. Certainly we cannot disregard voices and rights of developing nations in terms of data privacy and regulation of digital platforms, though due to them not being the most valuable markets for digital platforms, opinions and propositions of many parts of the world remain ignored. Their voices and worries should be heard and more, equally counted, so we can together build a better world to live in (10.4, 10.6).

Description:

Maintaining the Internet's open architecture is today's necessity as it is the foundation of independent digital transformation and evolution. The main purpose of the Internet is not to provide a specific set of information services, but to ensure global connectivity. The choice of specific services is the responsibility of the users themselves, the network should only provide data transmission without interfering with the user selection process. And digital platforms play their role in this, creating numerous opportunities for business, the public and individual users of the Internet.

These digital giants are power generators of economic growth and progress, yet their increasing role and influence in economic and political spheres pose a new challenge. Therefore, it is time to question their rights and responsibilities towards users and national governments.

During the session we will try to debate and find out what is so far the proper regulation for the digital platforms. Engaging in a meaningful and fruitful dialogue is necessary for critical evaluation of the role digital platforms have currently in our lives. To what extent should Digital platforms self-regulate their activities and content in accordance with the national jurisdiction? How to design an environment of trust and mutual respect in Online, ensuring the interests of individuals and society at large?

The round table format chosen for the session will allow the speakers to propose different perspectives according to their sector, region and interest, serving as a trigger for the attendees to feel motivated to express their own opinions about the topic and strengthen the debate.

Our dependence on digital tools aggravates protection of personal data. Data governance is one of the prime strategic conditions for sustainable digital transformation. As data is becoming a corporate asset, rather than an individual possession, regulators are faced with the dilemma of a needed data governance framework that will facilitate and ensure accountable transfer and protection of personal private data.

Implementation of GDPR in Europe sparked a debate over the necessity to introduce data protection legislation and to empower regulators data transfer. It also raises a question of the government’s authority to collect personal data of citizens. Nevertheless it is evident that norms are required for a maintenance of credible cooperation and respect for privacy of data.

Moreover, the jury is still out on whether digital platforms should act according to their own data policy, data policy of their country of origin or country of operation. From time to time digital platforms agree to delete the content that violates a country’s law but only after a government implements some penalties and restrictions to platforms. But why a "stick and no carrot" is the predominant approach in the relations between companies and governments?

Further, as digital platforms use artificial intelligence for moderation purposes, sometimes content that does not pose any threat is eliminated or access to it is restricted by mistake, though it does not violate the terms of use. These mistakes, if they occur often, may be considered politically motivated by some governments. How should governments and digital companies react to that kind of content moderation? And what is it that we as users should advocate for no matter what regulatory framework is settled? It is worth mentioning that some governments stay blind towards abuses by online platforms as long as they serve their interests and do not meddle into state affairs (as in case with pre-paid political advertisement).

It is also important to recognize the weakness of most governments of small countries in the Global South, which, separately, do not have enough strength to impose national regulations, not even in basic aspects such as requiring specific or differentiated Terms of Use, according to local legislation, or submitting the treatment of disputes in courts of jurisdiction of these countries. In this case, the GDPR is a good example of how important it is to work on regional regulatory strategies, as an initial path towards global regulatory strategies.

Expected Outcomes

The workshop aims to raise awareness among users about digital platforms’ data policies and the ways personal data is used by these companies. Also, this discussion will help to explore the potential creation of joint regulation towards global digital platforms. At the same time it is important for the workshop to strike a careful balance between risks and opportunities of creating the joint regulation for the digital platforms. This is a perfect moment for governments and online platforms to hear their mutual concerns and find solutions to their sticking points. Governments are expected to further cooperate and share their experience based on the results of this workshop. The outcomes will be formulated in an online executive summary for a wide spread to reach all interested stakeholder groups.

Round table represents equality of all speakers which is why it was chosen as the format for this session. Some of the workshop’s speakers will be joining us online due to the ongoing pandemic. Online participants of the workshop will feel themselves as full-fledged part of discussion.

The speakers will briefly (5 minutes each) express their view on the topic, and after that everyone is expected to share their opinion and join the discussion. It is important to remember that hearing all the voices from different stakeholder groups is one of the main priorities of this workshop. The Onsite moderator ensures that all members of the workshop have been given a floor to share their views.

Similarly, the Online moderator will not only monitor the floor requests, but also register relevant interventions coming from the online participants in the platform's chat, to be shared with all attendees in the end of the session. The experience of our speakers and organizers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic shows that the 60 Min format is the most appropriate to keep the discussion interesting for all the participants and at the same time provide everyone with an opportunity to speak up their mind.

Online Participation

Usage of IGF Official Tool. Additional Tools proposed: Mentimeter (https://www.menti.com) Session would involve instant feedback collection from the audience as a main feature. All participants, including those online, would be asked to access Mentimeter via the link and QR-code that would help to interact and allow for a quick reaction of the audience to certain aspects of discussion or answer the prepared questions.

Reference Document

Session Time
Thursday, 9th December, 2021 (12:50 UTC) - Thursday, 9th December, 2021 (13:50 UTC)
Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Digital platforms have become an integral part of our lives. They provide many opportunities for government, business and ordinary users and are powerful drivers of economic development. At the same time, their increasing role in economic and political processes makes us seriously question their rights and responsibilities towards ordinary users and the national governments.

The jury is still out on what rules of the game should digital platforms follow, including what legislation (countries where they are registered or operate) IT giants must follow, and where to pay taxes. This also applies to the policy of the issue of data management and content moderation.

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Stakeholders must try to strike a balance in the regulatory framework and find the most balanced approach to regulation which is an obvious necessity due to the challenges posed by the information threats and growing influence of the technology companies.

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

Patrick Pennickx claimed that we should not put too much responsibility for regulation on digital platforms as some governments tend to. As he averred digital platforms have literally become media giants, but at the same time they are not able combat hate speech, fake news and destructive content, which are a serious threat. He stressed that it is important to strike a balance in developing regulatory measures. 

“The Internet gives us many opportunities, but it also creates risks and challenges. There is now an active discussion in the EU regarding the regulation of disinformation. For example, in France, a law is being developed that creates a mechanism for removing “fake news” from the Web. To do this, you need to get an affirming court order, and then the digital platform is obliged to remove the information. However, this raises the question of how to preserve the freedom of expression,” stated Lucien Castex, also supporting the statement of his colleague from the Council of Europe on maintaining a balance. 

The representative of Latin America, Roberto Zambrana, raised a very important issue of taxation of tech giants. He noted that almost all digital platforms do not pay taxes in the countries where they operate. They claim that taxes are already paid in the country they are registered in, and the IT giants are not going to pay them twice.

“As you know, the OECD is currently developing a solution to this problem – the Global Digital Tax. Another regulatory issue is the ‘Terms of Use’, which people rarely read and sometimes don't even know what they are agreeing to. It is necessary to develop mechanisms for the control of ‘Terms of Use’ within the framework of national legislation. Unfortunately, in South America it is impossible to apply European practice of developing common regional measures, so you will have to create one for each country,” concluded Zambrana.

Head of the Philippine company Suyomano Mary Lou Rissa Cunanan also supported previous speakers and claimed that multi stakeholder cooperation is crucial. Cooperation between public, civil and technical societies contribute to the fostering of digital innovations. Partnerships like these are key for meaningful results in the digital environment.

Hariniombonana Andriamampionona stressed the importance of the newly-established framework of digital rights in cyberspace and recognised that  COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation around the world. As she stated: "Start-ups and global companies are finding new opportunities in the global south bringing with them improved infrastructure. But in light of this emerging environment new regulation is required."

The Russian representative in MAG, Roman Chukov, also joined the discussion and noted that the pandemic taught us to share responsibility and rights on the Internet and to take into account the views of all stakeholders. “It is necessary to develop new rules of the game. The UN is already actively engaged in this, for example, the UN Secretary General recently proposed creating a Global Digital Compact. I hope that his initiative will be supported all over the world,” he concluded.

 

Conclusions:

In general, countries around the world are united in their attempts to establish universal and fair rules of the game that would include the interest of society, government and digital platforms.

Moreover, the measures are quite similar to each other, so the regulatory framework of one region can be revised in one way or another for another region, of course, taking into account local specifics and always prioritising and maintaining respect for national jurisdictions.