IGF 2017 WS #147 Beyond the next gig: Unpacking development, rights and economic futures in the age of platforms

Short Title: 
Beyond the next gig: Unpacking Platforms

Proposer's Name: Ms. Deepti Bharthur
Proposer's Organization: IT for Change
Co-Proposer's Name: Mr. Nicolo Zingales
Co-Proposer's Organization: Dynamic Coalition on Platform Responsibility
Dr.,Deepti,BHARTHUR,Civil Society,IT for Change
Dr.,Nicolo,ZINGALES,Civil Society,Dynamic Coalition on Platform Responsibility

Additional Speakers: 

Vahini Naidu, South African Permanent Mission, Geneva



1. Context setting: 25 minutes

Speakers will briefly address the issues outlined in the session description, drawing upon their respective work in the areas of data, platforms, digital labour and regulatory and governance issues.

  • Introductory remarks by Anita Gurumurthy (moderator) 5 mins
  • Lightning talks by speakers (4 x 5) 20 mins
    • Viviana Munoz Tellez, will examine key policy challenges in the area of furthering right to knowledge and right to development in the context of platformisation
    • Mark Graham, will discuss the emerging digital work and enterprise models in the platform economy.
    • Luca Belli, will discuss the need for platform regulation through an examination of the ‘Terms of Service’ framework.
    • Anita Gurumurthy, will outline the sweep of issues concerning platform governance and frame the geo-political context of platformization.
    • Vahini Naidu, will comment on how issues of platform economy are being constructed /deliberated upon in global trade talks and policy venues.

2. Brainstorming exercise: 15 mins

In this activity, the attendees will respond to the lightning talks and contribute questions on platform economy through post-its which will be put on a bulletin board. Online questions will also be collated in a similar manner.

3. Open floor discussion: 40 mins

Aided by facilitation from the moderator, panelists will engage with the questions generated through the brain storming exercise. Audience members will also be able to respond, comment and raise counter questions.

4. Concluding remarks by panel: 5 mins



Session Title: Beyond the Next Gig: Unpacking Development, Rights and Economic Futures in the Age of Platforms

Date: December 20, 2017

Time: 10:40AM to 12:10PM

Session Organizers: Deepti Bharthur, IT for Change; Nicolo Zingales, Dynamic Coalition on Platform Responsibility

Chair/Moderator: Anita Gurumurthy, IT for Change

Rapporteur/Note-taker: Nandini Chami, IT for Change

List of Speakers and their institutional affiliations: Mark Graham, Oxford Internet Institute; Viviana Munoz, South Centre; Luca Belli, Dynamic Coalition on Platform Responsibility; Sanya Reid Smith, Third World Network

Key Issues raised (1 sentence per issue):

1. The restructuring of critical economic sectors by platform monopolies raises a range of concerns about distributional equity, and social and economic inclusion, which demands effective legal-institutional responses at the international, national and subnational level.

2. A new global movement for fair work is essential to prevent the marginalisation and exploitation of workers in the highly opaque, virtual production networks of the platform economy.

3. The terms of service and invisible algorithms of dominant platforms become a default governance regime in key economic and social sectors, and such privatisation of regulation needs to be checked.

4. Data is a key economic resource in the platform economy; and therefore, data governance frameworks that prevent its expropriation by platform companies are critical for public interest.

If there were presentations during the session, please provide a 1-paragraph summary for each presentation:

Anita Gurumurthy set the stage for the session by highlighting how online platforms are to the digital economy what factories were to the industrial revolution: fundamental sites for the organisation of economic activities. What is worrisome is the parasitic nature of platforms. They produce value by annexing traditional sectors of the economy through monopoly control of marketplace and social interactions, and enclosure of the data commons. This opens up a range of questions for inclusion and economic justice:

  • How can we design new regulatory frameworks at global, national and subnational levels for a more inclusive and fairer digital economy?
  • What can we do to prevent platformisation of the economy from exacerbating existing hierarchies of gender, class and race?
  • How should countries struggling with digitalisation and datafication deal with the new challenges of platformisation?
  • In what ways can we leverage the social value of the data that platforms generate?

Mark Graham spoke about the changing nature of employment in the platform economy, highlighting how labour surplus in the global South has led to reduced bargaining power of platform workers. Further, the lack of labour regulation of platform work has contributed to exploitative labour practices: low wages, exhaustion and sleep deprivation are part of the everyday life of the average online worker. The precariousness of labour and the threat of being easily replaceable prevents workers from collectivising. And the dispersed geography of work leads to a lot of opacity in these virtual production networks. Client firms may not even know about minimum wages standards in the countries to which they are outsourcing to. To deal with this situation, we need a fair work movement akin to the fair trade movement. The Fair Work Foundation project is attempting to do by creating certification standards for digital work platforms.

Viviana Munoz noted how huge inequalities continue to exist in the digital society. Our social networks may be expanding, but we have no sense of community. In the sphere of economics, though there are a few alternative digital platforms, on the whole, the dominant model is that of capitalism. The nature of the platform economy, specifically its underlying network effect logic, means that there can only be limited number of players in the market. This opens up new challenges for equity. And in the sphere of politics, we see the rising role of private actors in the platform economy and the push for self-regulation, which raises new questions for democratic accountability.

Luca Belli spoke of the risks of delegating regulation to private platforms whose main role is not the protection of public interest but the maximisation of ‘for-profit’ functions. Because transnational platforms unilaterally define their terms of service, they have emerged as quasi-regulatory powers. They are also somewhat feudal – private platforms do not grant the user any bargaining power; it is a “take it or leave it kind of situation”. Further, platforms can fashion new laws through algorithms, details of which are not available in the terms of reference. In this context, when we talk about shaping the digital future, which is the theme of the current IGF, “we should help people construct the digital future by themselves and not end up being digitally colonized”. Equipping them understand how they are regulated by the “law of the platform” is key to this. Most importantly, data is the key resource in the platform economy and currently, platforms have absolute control over your data. Once you leave it on a platform, you cannot withdraw. Therefore, we may need to explore an individual-centred model instead of a platform-centred model where we have data custodians who handle your data, keep it in an open format, and let you determine how you will use it.

Sanya Reid Smith reflected on the emerging debates in WTO negotiations on digital trade and e-commerce, and their implications for an inclusive platform economy. At MC 11, seventy countries said that they wanted to negotiate e-commerce rules, though this is not part of the mandate of the WTO. If these proposed rules are accepted, it will curtail the ability of developing countries to regulate the digital economy. For example, there's a proposal by Japan for cross border data flows at all times with no privacy exceptions. This means countries will have absolutely no room to require data to be stored locally, even in the case of sensitive data sets such as health data/ financial data. Though there is a general privacy exception that can be invoked, this is not useful as it can be deployed only in relation to those laws which are already consistent with WTO rules. Another key concern is that the proposals may not address the current problems of workers and small and medium enterprises being squeezed by the unfair practices of platform companies. And governments may not be able to inspect the source code of dominant platforms to check if they are abusing their dominant position for unfair economic advantage. Finally, how do we decide where computing services rules must be applied and where sectoral legislation must apply? For example, take the case of Amazon: is it a retail service or a transport or computer related service or logistic service.

Please describe the discussions that took place during the workshop session (3 paragraphs):

Comments from the floor:

  • The challenge of deciding which set of laws/ rules would apply to digital platforms may get exacerbated in the case of super apps.
  • The financial regulation of platforms, especially their taxation aspects, is an important area to address.
  • The Github model may offer a viable alternative for the creation of terms of reference in democratic and participatory ways.
  • We need to reflect on whether the multistakeholder model can meet the governance challenges of the platform economy.
  • We can think about a data approach to make microwork platforms more accountable, by forcing them to open up information and data about their working conditions.
  • We need an individualised and a collectivised response to data governance. We also need to ensure that our data governance models further the public interest. Therefore, it may be important to establish a public authority that acts a custodian of data who is independent of the executive and can audit data corporations, and adjudicate on anti-competitive practices.

Responses from the panelists:

  • Luca Belli noted that super-apps were more an exception than a rising trend. He also highlighted that though there may be a few examples of participatory platform regulators, it is important to recognise that there may be motivated/biased platform regulators who need to be checked.
  • Sanya Reid Smith highlighted that proposed e-commerce rules disallowing the inspection of source code of tax preparation software of TNCs may make the detection of tax evasion difficult.
  • Anita Gurumurthy reflected on the need for public value models of data which would ensure that our right to data is not just limited to choosing between data custodians, but serves as a guarantee that data will be deployed only for social good.

Please describe any participant suggestions regarding the way forward/ potential next steps /key takeaways (3 paragraphs):

  • We need to force microwork platforms to be accountable by opening up information/data about work practices to worker unions.
  • A public interest model for leveraging the social value of data must be created.
  • In the future IGFs, it would be important to continue the debate on making the platform economy work for the rights-and-inclusion agenda.

Gender Reporting

Estimate the overall number of the participants present at the session: 42

Estimate the overall number of women present at the session: 20

To what extent did the session discuss gender equality and/or women’s empowerment? If the session addressed issues related to gender equality and/or women’s empowerment, please provide a brief summary of the discussion:

When setting the stage for the session, the moderator explicitly flagged the need to map the impacts of the platform economy on crystallising existing socio-structural hierarchies. She pointed to the reconstitution of gendered labour hierarchies, because of the platformisation of care work; and the reinforcement of gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles through the ratings systems of tourism platforms.


Session Format: Birds of a Feather - 90 Min

Country: India
Stakeholder Group: Civil Society

Country: United Kingdom
Stakeholder Group: Civil Society

Speaker: Viviana Munoz
Speaker: Mark Graham
Speaker: Luca Belli
Speaker: Anita Gurumurthy
Speaker: Mohammad Amir Anwar

Content of the Session:
Digital platforms are re-structuring the DNA of the global economy. By creating new peer-to-peer marketplaces for goods and services and enabling the emergence of 'virtual' economic opportunities in the form of micro-work and game labour, they potentially open up job opportunities for a new generation of workers. This flux in many ways, is a time of great promise, but is often presented through a singular narrative -- of a sharing economy that ostensibly allows the unimpeded flow of digital and material goods, services and data flows over platform marketplaces. There is a need to unpack this narrative and its production models so that the implications for practice and policy, towards egalitarian economic futures, can be understood.

This calls for careful attention to the situated experiences of platformisation in the global South, a debate that is neglected. What are the emerging opportunities for informal sector labour in the gig economy? How is platformisation transforming the supply chain for small producers? What could be the impact of platforms' terms of service and algorithmic regulation on user rights? The proposed session will examine these questions, from the standpoint of rights -- labour rights, digital and data rights of citizens, rights of small producers etc. For instance, free digital flows may not work for developing economies where domestic policies with respect to digital rights or digital dimensions of traditional rights are not sorted out. Further, developing countries may lack the power to enforce compliance or stipulate standards for big platform intermediaries from outside their jurisdiction. Local models based on cooperativism may not find mooring given the extraordinary clout of monopolies like Uber, who control large platforms. Appropriate sectoral and digital policy and regulation may be nascent. It is also unclear how consumer data is used by platforms for data analytics and market consolidation, and what this means for the economic autonomy and futures of developing countries. The proposed workshop aims to bring together interested actors to deliberate upon this issue, by engaging with the following questions

(a) What are the platform models in countries of the global South? What opportunities and challenges do they open up for individual and collective rights (as citizens, workers, producers and consumers)?

(b) What are the building blocks of a conducive policy environment to promote egalitarian platform models? What could be the impact of platforms' terms of service and algorithmic regulation on users' rights?

(c) What is the impact of platformisation on inequalities within and between countries?

(d) What are the good practices of cooperative platform-based models, and policy measures towards encouraging inclusive economies in the platform era?

Relevance of the Session:
The social, economic and cultural impact of platforms has been significant and only continues to grow. In many ways, they are remaking the Internet as we know it, bearing directly on this year’s IGF theme, “Shape Your Digital Future.” As a key digital phenomenon, platforms have critical implications for Internet Governance issues. Interesting developments in recent times, in regulating Uber in UK and Chile for example, have brought such governance issues to the table. The French Digital Council submitted a report on Platform Neutrality in 2015. It is in this context of the rising significance of appropriate policy development (digital sector and other sectors) to regulate platforms that we seek to propose this session. The regulatory environment in developing countries is still nascent and governance challenges in these contexts tied in with other geo-political issues. We believe that this workshop is highly relevant to the IGF venue and can bring value both to the forum and its participants. It is also the hope of this workshop that a committed work track can be evolved towards research and deliberation on policy issues around platform economies.

Tag 1: Platforms
Tag 2: Digital Economy
Tag 3: Digital Future

The workshop brings together speakers who will approach the question of the platform economy from various lenses and stand-points, thus allowing for a diverse range of deliberations on the topic. Instead of following a traditional ‘talking heads’ panel format, the workshop will bring in speakers’ research and policy expertise to the fore through short lightning talks. Audiences will then engage with the issues and the discussion moderated to include responses from speakers.

-Viviana Munoz – will examine key policy challenges in the area of furthering right to knowledge and right to development in the context of platformisation.

-Mark Graham – will discuss the emerging digital work and enterprise models in the platform economy, and reflect on the key issues and challenges they open up for the rights and inclusion agenda.

-Luca Belli – will discuss the need for platform regulation through an examination of the ‘Terms of Service’ framework.

-Anita Gurumurthy - will outline the sweep of issues concerning platform governance. She will frame the geo-political context of platformization, flagging the new issues and new policy venues (such as the WTO) where significant debates are taking shape.

-Mohammad Amir Anwar will speak to the growth of the knowledge economy in the global South and its developmental outcomes.

The proposed workshop reflects diversity in both its composition and its focus. Our workshop panel – where we have ensured to achieve a gender balance – comprises speakers and scholars from varying contexts, whose work is rooted firmly in social justice and rights frameworks, working on empirical aspects of policy in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

The panel itself aims at unpacking the many dimensions of the political economy of platforms primarily from a global South standpoint, thus bringing to bear on the platform discourse viewpoints and voices from outside the first world.

Onsite Moderator: Anita Gurumurthy
Online Moderator: Parminder Jeet Singh
Rapporteur: Nandini Chami

Online Participation:
The workshop will be made open to online participation, which we will actively seek through reaching out on our mailing lists and networks, and the use of social media in the time leading up to IGF. At the workshop, we will facilitate remote participation through a designated moderator to facilitate questions and comments via WebEx through live audio/video and chat. We will also live-blog the proceedings of the workshop to allow remote participants to follow along in case of bandwidth issues.

Discussion facilitation:
The choice of a ‘Birds of a Feather’ format for the proposed workshop allows for a highly interactive and issue-centred participation, while still retaining the advantages of minimal structure and facilitation. The tentative schedule for the workshop is provided below with details of how discussions will be facilitated;

Context setting
-Introductory remarks by Anita Gurumurthy (moderator) – 5 mins

-Lightning talks by speakers - (4 x 5) 20 mins

Speakers will briefly address the issues outlined in the session description, drawing upon their respective work in the areas of data, platforms, digital labour, and regulatory/governance issue.

Brainstorming exercise – 15 mins

In this activity, the attendees will respond to the lightning talks and contribute questions on platform economy through post-its which will be put on a bulletin board. Online questions will also be collated in a similar manner.

Open floor discussion - 40 mins

Aided by facilitation from the onsite and online moderator, panelists will engage with the questions generated through the brain storming exercise. Audience members will also be able to respond, comment and raise counter questions.

Concluding remarks by panel - 5 mins

Conducted a Workshop in IGF before?: Yes
Link to Report: https://www.intgovforum.org/cms/wks2015/index.php/proposal/view_public/134

Contact Information

United Nations
Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

Villa Le Bocage
Palais des Nations,
CH-1211 Geneva 10

igf [at] un [dot] org
+41 (0) 229 173 678