Beyond the Net Economy Women in Tech

Empowering Moroccan Cooperatives to Participate in the Digital Economy

KASBUY is a web platform to help Moroccan cooperatives, especially ones from women, to promote their handicrafts on international online markets. It will allow any registered cooperative, after following a well-defined and transparent process, to have its own online space to sell its products and manage its business and inventory management activities.

The project is supported by the Internet Society Beyond the Net Funding Programme and developed by the Internet Society Morocco Chapter in partnership with the public organization ODCO (Office du Développement de Coopération) and the private IT company Maghreb-SI.

Through the KASBUY platform, we aim to build an international community around Moroccan crafts and local products. The platform targets small women’s cooperatives that produce handicrafts and wish to reach a large audience through the Internet. In general, these cooperatives find it very difficult to sell their products either because of lack of visibility of their products, or because of the lack of competence in the digital payment process. The platform will provide more opportunities to sell their products.

The project aims to:

  • Help cooperatives to overcome the difficulties of selling their local products
  • Ensure stable salaries for cooperative members
  • Develop the cooperatives in a sustainable way, and support women and their families
  • Use the Internet to promote Moroccan heritage and preserve culture and diversity
  • Allow women to participate in the digital economy and highlight their creativity

KASBUY will also address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 5 (Gender Equality) and 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth).

Project manager: Cherkaoui LEGHRIS, Financial Responsible: Radouane MRABET, Web application developer: Reda JAALI, Reports Responsible: Aicha ABBAD, Social media account manager: Marouane ABBOUD, Monitoring: Abdelouahed LAABID and Mohammed HILALI

We’re looking for new ideas from people all over the world on how you can empower your community using the Internet. The Beyond the Net Funding Programme funds projects up to $30,000.

Economy Internet Governance Privacy Public Policy Reports Shaping the Internet's Future

Future Thinking: Orla Lynskey on Data in the Age of Consolidation

Last year, the Internet Society unveiled the 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future. The interactive report identifies the drivers affecting tomorrow’s Internet and their impact on Media & Society, Digital Divides, and Personal Rights & Freedoms. We interviewed Orla Lynskey to hear her perspective on the forces shaping the Internet’s future.

Orla Lynskey is an associate professor of law at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her primary area of research interest is European Union data protection law. Her monograph, The Foundations of EU Data Protection Law (Oxford University Press, 2015), explores the potential and limits of individual control over personal data, or “informational self-determination’” in the data protection framework. More recently, her work has focused on collective approaches to data protection rights and mechanisms to counterbalance asymmetries of power in the online environment. Lynskey is an editor of International Data Privacy Law and the Modern Law Review and is a member of the EU Commission’s multistakeholder expert group on GDPR. She holds an LLB from Trinity College, Dublin, an LLM from the College of Europe (Bruges) and a PhD from the University of Cambridge. Before entering academia, she worked as a competition lawyer in Brussels and as a teaching assistant at the College of Europe.

The Internet Society: You recently edited a symposium edition of International Data Privacy Law (IDPL) in which you argue that the interplay of law related to data protection, competition, and consumer protection is at a crucial crossroads. Why, and how does this play out in the Internet domain?

Orla Lynskey: These areas of law are at a crossroads in two senses. The first is that there has now been increasing recognition from regulators that they do overlap in some circumstances. A good example of this is the reference in the Microsoft/LinkedIn merger decision to data protection as a parameter on which firms compete, or the claim that Facebook is abusing its position of market power by making access to its service conditional on excessive data collection on various third-party websites being investigated by the German Competition Authority. However, we are also now at a crossroad in a second sense: having recognised that these areas of law need to be applied in a holistic manner, we now need to consider from a practical, procedural perspective how this overlap can be managed.

You’ve written elsewhere that digital consolidation can have an effect on digital inequality by giving platforms not just market power, but also the “power of providence.” What do you mean by this and how does it impact marginalised communities in particular?

Providence is defined in various ways, including as a form of non-human influence that controls people’s lives. I argue in the paper that dominant digital platforms have a “power of providence,” as they are – like the eye of providence – all-seeing: they have the ability to link and analyse diverse datasets in a way that provides a comprehensive overview of the lives of individuals, rendering them transparent in the process. Furthermore, they can use this unique vantage point in order to influence individuals in ways that we might until now have viewed as dystopian, for instance through personalised political advertising. Finally, the Internet’s architecture and the terms used to describe its processes (for instance, “machine learning”) give the false impression that the way in which our data is used to influence us online and nudge us in particular directions is untethered from human input, or is “neutral.” In this sense, it is given a quasi-divine status.

I suggest that this power of providence can have the particularly pernicious effect of exacerbating existing societal inequalities. I argue in the paper that this ability to use data to influence people can be used to discriminate, to differentiate and also to create perceptions. For instance, I was able to draw on the work of other scholars to indicate that data mining facilitates differentiation on the basis of socioeconomic status, which is not something that discrimination law prohibits. This research suggests that the poor are subject to more surveillance with higher stakes and are particularly vulnerable to data mining processes as a result of the devices used to connect to the Internet (notably, mobile phones which are less secure than other devices). While differentiation via data mining is not the sole purview of platforms which such power, their privileged position gives them superior data-mining capacity and means the existing information and power asymmetries are exacerbated.

Can competition law challenge the power of providence? What about data protection law? How can these work together to protect digital rights?

Competition law provisions are the only legal provisions explicitly designed to constrain the exercise of private power and so it makes sense to consider whether they can be of assistance in challenging this power of providence. I believe that, at a minimum, competition law should not make matters worse by, for instance, facilitating data-driven mergers that further consolidate our data in the hands of a very limited number of private actors. However, in some circumstances competition law could also limit abusive behaviour – for instance, exploitative terms and conditions for data usage – by firms with market power.

That said, competition law has its own limits and should only ever be a part of the overall jigsaw puzzle, with data protection law playing a leading role in regulating how our personal data can be used. To date, EU data protection law has not been robustly enforced, but I am one of those who remain optimistic that with stronger enforcement this system could be really effective.

If data protection, consumer protection, and competition law are all important in challenging harmful digital dominance, how do the different regulatory agencies responsible for dealing with these respective issues work together without encroaching on each other’s domains? Is there a need for better multistakeholder collaboration in this regard?

It is this question – of the division of labour between regulatory authorities – that has yet to be really ironed out. Ideally, as the European Data Protection Supervisor has proposed, these agencies would collaborate with one another under the auspices of a “Digital Clearing House,” or something similar.

Germany recently announced plans to try to curb digital dominance using competition law. Have you noticed any trends when it comes to other competition authorities’ responses to tech dominance around the world, and particularly how they are defining relevant markets?

There is definitely a growing recognition of the power of technology companies amongst regulators, and the wider public. This may be where competition law hits its limits, however: competition law provisions do not prevent a company from acquiring a position of market power, they simply make it unlawful for that company to abuse that position of market power in a way that is exploitative or that would exclude equally efficient competitors from the market. Economic regulation could, for instance, force tech companies to ensure structural separation between various operations (e,g., a structural separation between Facebook and WhatsApp). However, this would require legislative intervention.

The exception to this is in the context of mergers, where competition authorities get to look at the potential future impact of a transaction on the market. Here, I have argued in the past that data-driven mergers should be treated in an analogous way to media mergers and subject not only to an economic assessment but also to a broader non-competition assessment to gauge their impact on data protection and privacy. This is one of the ideas being considered in Germany and I think it is likely other competition authorities will introduce similar measures in due course.

What do you think of the idea that user data should be given digital property rights (i.e., that platforms should pay users for their data)?

Property rights in personal data are a terrible idea: they offer no real advantages compared to the current legal framework and risk exacerbating information and power asymmetries while undermining data protection as a fundamental right. Giving property rights in data would not strengthen our hand when it comes to negotiating with the tech giants, rather it would simply mean that we would lose all rights over that data once we entered into contracts with these companies. I also worry that going down this route would make data protection a luxury that can be enjoyed by those who could afford not to have their data processed, even perhaps creating the skewed incentive to reveal more data, or more sensitive data to profit from it. This is incompatible with the EU Charter right to data protection. I discuss this issue in my book on the foundations of EU data protection law. 

Is there hope in data portability as a way of countering data effects and addressing consolidation concerns?

Potentially. One explanation for the GDPR right to data portability is that it may empower consumers to switch service providers if they are unhappy with a service (for instance, to switch from Facebook to a mythical alternative if you are unsatisfied with the quality of the data protection offered). However, as I discuss in my research, the impact of this right on competition and innovation is ambiguous. It could, for instance, deter innovation by locking in the standards used by incumbent companies or increasing the costs of startups. This is all the more so as it does not require interoperability. However, whether interoperability is desirable from a data protection perspective is equally contestable. I would suggest that portability should be viewed through the lens of individual control over personal data rather than simply as a market tool, given these ambiguous effects.

What are your fears for the future of the Internet?

My main fear about the Internet is that a medium which promised so much for the advancement of rights – such as freedom of expression and of association – may end up having corrosive and divisive real world effects. One of the advantages of the Internet was that it offered people the opportunity to connect with those with similar niche interests (the Eric Cantona Appreciation Society, for example) but the personalisation of all content, including for instance political content, may push this to an extreme. That is not to say that personalisation is the only factor feeding into this concern, needless to say.

What are your hopes for the future of the Internet?

I think the Internet at present is based on a data bubble that needs bursting. The primary example of this is the excessive data processing that online behavioural advertising entails. Even if we could argue that processing of personal data is the quid pro quo for access to online services and content that are free at the point of access, the amount of personal data processed for that exchange is clearly disproportionate. Regulators have not yet gotten to grips with this but data protection law provides a potential ground on which to challenge this processing: when considering whether consent is freely given, utmost account needs to be taken of whether the service is made conditional on consent to unnecessary processing. I have not yet seen any empirical evidence that convinces me that online behavioural advertising is so much more effective than contextual advertising that it justifies this excessive incursion into our rights.

We’re getting ready to launch the next Global Internet Report! Read the concept note and learn how the Internet Economy might shape our future.

Economy Internet Governance Shaping the Internet's Future

Future Thinking: Payal Malik of the Competition Commission of India

Last year, the Internet Society unveiled the 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future. The interactive report identifies the drivers affecting tomorrow’s Internet and their impact on Media & Society, Digital Divides, and Personal Rights & Freedoms. We interviewed Payal Malik to hear her perspective on the forces shaping the Internet’s future.

Payal Malik is the Economics Adviser and Head of the Economics Division (Chief Economist) at the Competition Commission of India. She is on secondment from the University of Delhi, where she is an associate professor of Economics. Her areas of expertise are competition law, policy and regulation. She has many years of economic consulting experience in network industries such as power and telecommunication, information and communication technologies (ICTs), innovation systems, and infrastructure. She was previously a senior research fellow at LIRNEasia and a senior consultant at the Center for Infrastructure and Regulation, National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), India. At NCAER she was a lead researcher on various infrastructure development projects, including telecoms, electricity, highways, and water and sanitation. She was also on the team that drafted the Electricity Act of India, ushering competition into the sector.

The Internet Society: This year we’re focusing our annual Internet Futures report on consolidation in the Internet economy. We’re specifically investigating vertical and horizontal consolidation trends in and across the access, services and application layers of the Internet respectively. Have you noticed any trends in this regard?

Payal Malik: Yes, we have observed both horizontal and vertical consolidation in the Internet society. Consolidation trends have been observed in digital payment services, digital farming applications, e-commerce platforms, etc. Many cases were related to acquisition of shareholdings in e-commerce firms by investment companies. For example, Walmart recently acquired a major e-commerce firm in India and entered the market of e-commerce platforms. Furthermore, many firms in the digital space, and most of the new-born companies, fall under the de minimis exemption thresholds and hence their acquisition is exempted from notification. Thus, there may be more consolidation going on that hits the “blind spot.”

You’ve long worked on competition issues in various network industries, including telecoms. How has technology’s role in societies changed in the time since you’ve been working in this field? Have you perceived a backlash against the tech industry in India (e.g., Facebook and Free Basics)?

The technology has changed drastically especially in case of the telecom sector. With the advent of Jio (a new entrant), the total telecom subscribers in India (936 million in March 2016) increased by a massive 28% to 1,202.22 million in March 2018. Further, the prices of telecom services declined significantly and data consumption per month increased by 924%. The growth of Big Data has led to innovation, the development of new sectors, and the penetration of technology even in case of traditional sectors like education and health. The rise of Big Data has also created issues of privacy, data monopolisation, etc.

Severe backlash was witnessed against Facebook’s Free Basics services in the country and the same was banned in 2016. Consequently, net neutrality rules were notified in 2018 that prevented “any form of discrimination or interference” with data, including “blocking, degrading, slowing down, or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content.” The view of the telecom regulator was that competition alone will not be sufficient to address the problem of telecom firms becoming gatekeepers to the Internet and strong ex-ante rules are required to regulate the behaviour of infrastructure firms such that it acts as a non-discriminatory platform. The issue of data localisation is now gaining currency in India and there seems to be some protectionist undercurrents to the whole issue.

Does this the trend impact India, or is more of a global issue?

Digital economy by its very nature is such that effects will inevitably cross state-nation boundaries and India, being an open economy, does feel the impact. Technological advances in other jurisdictions percolate to India, leading to innovation within the country, complementing the existing innovation ecosystem. We also recognise the challenges concerning Big Data and consumer privacy in the competition realm, especially as we have more players entering local markets. To address such conflicting issues we are trying to find ways and means to balance user privacy and technological innovation. We are in process of drafting privacy law which may be finalised soon and become an Act of the Parliament.

What makes the technology sector different when it comes to competition regulation?

The technology sector is different than other sectors as there are numerous relevant markets having multiple sides, each with specific competition dynamics. This makes the delineation of relevant market difficult. Further, markets are such that given market at one point in time mutates into another through the exploitation of complementarities. Therefore, a nuanced assessment has to be adopted by taking into account the facts, market, and technology in question. With the advent of Big Data in digital markets, data-rich entities are able to generate more user data with the help of feedback and monetisation loops. This leads to concerns of abuse of market power, algorithms, and collusions, etc.

As a competition regulator, how do you balance the need to not hamper innovation with the need for promoting competition?

When the cases involving dynamic competition, the Competition Commission tries to strike a balance between short-term static efficiencies and the longer-term gains that arise from innovation. Assessing technology sector issues requires an understanding of the underlying technology and a comprehensive knowledge of market developments. We’re also very aware of the fact that a given market at one point in time might mutate into another through the exploitation of complementarities. Further, during the assessment, we don’t emphasise the fact that one firm has entrenched market power in a particular industry. This is because taking such a stance would damage incentives to innovate, and would be a denial of the realities of market preferences. A nuanced assessment, based on the facts of the case and the market and technology in question, is therefore the strategy that the Commission has adopted in the analysis of antitrust cases involving digital economies in India.

Germany recently announced plans to try to curb digital dominance using competition law. Have you noticed any trends when it comes to other competition authorities’ responses to tech dominance around the world, and particularly how they are defining relevant markets? How do they differ between regions?

We do keep a track of international developments taking place in field of digital economy. Developed economies across the globe have now stepped in for curtailing digital monopolies, which may be a consequence of the economic realities of their countries, however given the peculiarities of each country these issues may have a local context. As far as defining a relevant market is concerned, we do consider definitions defined by other jurisdictions. We feel that Germany and France have adopted an aggressive approach to prevent digital dominance, which India cannot adopt at present time when digital markets are at their evolving stage. With the help of complementary laws, we hope to create a level playing field for digital players in India, including startups.

Is competition law the best solution to these consolidation problems? 

Yes, we do believe competition law is the best solution for consolidation problems. But there is a possibility that traditional asset/turnover criteria may fail to capture potentially anti-competitive transactions in the tech sector. Some transactions in this market may fall below turnover-based thresholds because the target’s products are offered for free, or have yet to come to market, and generate little turnover. In such instances, the target’s value may not best be correlated to its sales. The value of the target’s sales is a rather poor indicator of the merger’s significance for competition. Thus, asset/turnover-based notification thresholds may have a ‘blind spot’ if relied on alone. Therefore, thresholds levels must be modified to take these blind spots into account.

Is there potential in data portability as a way of countering data effects and addressing consolidation concerns?

Data portability allows users to receive their data back in a format that is conducive to reuse with another service. The purpose of data portability is to promote interoperability between systems and to give greater choice and control to the user with respect to their data held by other entities. The aim is also to create a level playing field for newly established service providers that wish to take on incumbents, but are unable to do so because of the significant barriers posed by lock-in and network effects. In line with the EU’s GDPR, Indian Data Protection Bill also gives right to data portability to users. This is important as we do believe data portability has the potential to counter data effects.

Besides the potential negative implications related to digital dominance, what are your fears for the future of the Internet?

The Internet has undoubtedly revolutionised the way people shop, work, socialise, entertain themselves, etc. It has had some very serious consequences on the democratic edifices of countries with the ability of the Internet to spread misinformation and changing people’s behaviours and preferences. Second, I will be very worried if perfect price discrimination is implementable based on the individual customer data that digital monopolies have, as this will lead to killing of the positive impact of competition in technology markets. Last, though there is no reason to believe chilling of innovation maybe the final nail in the coffin. But I think that is too apocalyptical as innovation is highly contestable. 

What are your hopes for the future of the Internet?

I hope the Internet will continue to develop new ideas, increase entrepreneurship, help make consumers’ lives easier, bring in transparency in terms of prices and quality, reduce intermediaries in supply chain, help transform societies, etc. For all this to happen, innovation needs to be protected and the government and competition regulators are aware of this need.

We’re getting ready to launch the next Global Internet Report! Read the concept note and learn how the Internet Economy might shape our future.

Economy Internet Governance Shaping the Internet's Future

Future Thinking: Natali Helberger on the Impact of Consolidation on Media Diversity

Last year, the Internet Society unveiled the 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future. The interactive report identifies the drivers affecting tomorrow’s Internet and their impact on Media & Society, Digital Divides, and Personal Rights & Freedoms. We interviewed Natali Helberger to hear her perspective on the forces shaping the Internet’s future.

Natali Helberger is a professor of Information Law at the University of Amsterdam’s (UvA) Faculty of Law. She researches how the role of information users is changing under the influence of information technology, and the regulation of converging information and communications markets. Focus points of her research are the interface between technology and information law, user rights and the changing role of the user in information law and policy. Natali has conducted research for the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, and national governments and is a regular speaker at national and international conferences. Among others, she is member of an Expert Committee of the Council of Europe on AI and Human Rights, and one of the leaders of the Dutch VSNU Citizenship & Democracy research agenda.

The Internet Society: You recently wrote a chapter for Damian Tambini and Martin Moore’s book Digital Dominance: The Power of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple (2018, Oxford University Press), focusing specifically on the impact of consolidation on media diversity. Can you tell us more? 

Natali Helberger: Damian and Martin asked me to look into the implications of the rise of digital online platforms for media diversity. Media diversity is the idea that in a democratic society there should be a variety of viewpoints and ideas from different speakers, presented to us via the media. One key trend that we see is people access news content and media content more and more not only via traditional media but also or even exclusively via new information intermediaries, such as social media platforms, apps, AI assistants, and search engines (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism 2016, 2017; Pew Research Center 2016).

These information intermediaries have stepped in to fill a critical gap in the news delivery chain: consolidating attention and helping users to make a selection of the news that they find relevant. The result is a structural transformation in which news is turning into a customizable product that can be carefully targeted and adjusted to individual recipients and the demands of advertisers. The presence of such data-driven, heavily targeted platforms does not necessarily need to be a challenge to a diverse information environment, as long as they are open to diverse voices, and there are alternative sources of information. But what to make of a situation in which there remain only a few dominant global sources of information? And in the light of such a dominant player and a heavily targeted news environment, what are the prospects of still encountering diverse media content if we do not succeed in preserving a flourishing media environment also outside platforms?

This year we’re focusing our annual Global Internet Report on consolidation in the Internet economy. We’re specifically investigating consolidation trends in the access, services, and application layers of the Internet respectively, as well as consolidation trends acting vertically across layers (e.g., companies gaining dominance in more than one of the Internet’s layers).

What do you think of this trend?

One consolidation trend that I am observing with some concern is the consolidation of the many different functions that the we use the Internet for in a few, powerful platforms: whether it is access to media content and news, social interaction, political information and interaction with our democratic representatives, buying and selling services, interacting with government services, with teachers and educational institutions, doing research – all these activities are facilitated by a few players who provide us with a super convenient service architecture to do so. And because their services are so good and convenient to use, we increasingly rely on them and make them, step-by-step, the backbone of our digital life. We should be concerned about the dependencies that this creates, not only in the economic but also in the political sense. Public institutions, such as universities, political parties, governments, public services, and media in particular should have a role to play in countering this trend, and facilitating alternative venues and infrastructures of public life on the internet.

How has technology’s role in societies changed in the time since you’ve been studying technology’s impact on the media? Have you perceived a backlash against the tech industry?  

I think that for some countries we are very close to completing our transition from an analogue to a data society. In the Netherlands, for example, the postal services have begun removing post boxes because few people write letters anymore, and in the communication modes between citizens and public services, digital has become the default. Having said so, I think it is important to acknowledge that the extent to which technology has already changed societies differs from country to country, and even for regions. We must be very careful that these differences do not result in new divides and inequalities when it comes to access to services and knowledge.

Regarding the backlash against the tech industry it is important to distinguish between the tech and the industry part in “tech industry.” It is up to society how tech can be used to advance human welfare, society, and fundamental rights, but also to decide in which situations we do not want technology to make important decisions about humans. Think of the use of AI in deciding who should get access to vital services such as health care, schooling, or justice. The tech industry can be an important partner in doing so. There can also be situations in which the interests of society and industry are not aligned or even opposed. And it is here where societies and governments must push back, and should not shy away protecting public interests and human rights against industry interests.

What are your other fears for the future of the Internet?

I am concerned about the shifts in not only economic but also political power that the Internet and our transition to a data society have caused. This is a shift that our current legal system is poorly prepared for. (Some) platforms are an instructive example of this. As important venues for people to inform themselves, form their political opinions, and interact with peers as well as their democratic representatives, these platforms are no longer only economic actors. They are also active actors in political processes, like elections or decisions about new laws. And because of the influence about the way people receive information and form opinions, data power can easily turn into political power. Commercial laws, like competition law and consumer law, are not prepared to deal with the political power that data can give. It is high time that we think of how to contain the political power of platforms, for example by revisiting our rules about political advertising, concentration of communication power, but also division of political power.

What are your hopes for the future of the Internet?

That the Internet continues to be a place where we can explore, connect, explore, and play – and do so without the need to be constantly alert about our privacy, whether we are being watched, manipulated or how our behavour can be used to advance someone’s else goal.

I am tremendously grateful that I am living and researching in this age of almost unlimited access to information and communication, and I hope that my work, and that of my colleagues at the Institute for Information Law in Amsterdam can help to make the Internet remain this place.

We’re getting ready to launch the next Global Internet Report! Read the concept note and learn how the Internet Economy might shape our future.


The Shifting Landscape of E-Commerce

It’s no surprise that buying behaviors have seen significant change over the past several years. Global online e-commerce sales are expected to double between 2016 and 2020. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), personal income increased $54.8 billion (0.3%) in July of 2018, while disposable personal income (DPI) increased $52.5 billion (0.3%) and personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased $49.3 billion (0.4%). July’s increase in personal income was a result of salary increases, rental income, and personal dividend income. The $29.6 billion increase in PCE in July led to an increase of $10.9 billion in spending for goods and a $18.9 billion increase in spending for services.

Online shoppers are experiencing a new wave of e-commerce, one that’s highly personalized to that individual’s shopping interests and behaviors. Brands are putting more dollars behind personalization, where they capture customer data points and present those customers with relevant content and products to encourage an online sale. By capturing search queries, shopping cart, geographic location, purchase history, social behavior, and customer segments, brands are able to alter their site’s content to best serve each individual customer. More than ever, e-commerce companies must also compete with one another.

How does the increase in online shopping affect the Internet itself?

As more money is spent online, data breaches are expected to rise. According to a study by Ponemon Institute, the average data breach costs $3.62 million. Dark web criminals are not only stealing people’s social security and credit card information, but they are using stolen information to apply for credit cards and make their own purchases. In response to the increasing threat of stolen online data, the number of identity theft security companies has increased, but is that enough?

While data breaches are increasing, both e-commerce companies and consumers need to be vigilant. Online retailers need to be extra careful with customer data and websites should be secure and encrypt transactions. On the consumer side, people can be better educated on security issues and privacy issues. Reading Understanding Your Online Identity: Protecting Your Privacy is a good first step.

The takeaway? The majority of sales are occurring online, and with that, Internet security breaches will continuously occur. The Internet economy is outperforming the physical retail store economy, and if your company is involved in e-commerce, you should take the extra steps needed to make sure your online infrastructure and customer data are secure. Missing out on this step could be a setback your company can’t bounce back from.

Read Understanding Your Online Identity: Protecting Your Privacy.

Economy Internet Governance Shaping the Internet's Future Technology

Future Thinking: Mozilla Director of Public Policy Chris Riley on the Internet Economy

Last year, the Internet Society unveiled the 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future. The interactive report identifies the drivers affecting tomorrow’s Internet and their impact on Media & Society, Digital Divides, and Personal Rights & Freedoms. We interviewed Chris Riley to hear his perspective on the forces shaping the Internet’s future.

Chris Riley is Director, Public Policy at Mozilla, working to advance the open Internet through public policy analysis and advocacy, strategic planning, coalition building, and community engagement. Chris manages the global Mozilla public policy team and works on all things Internet policy, motivated by the belief that an open, disruptive Internet delivers tremendous socioeconomic benefits, and that if we as a global society don’t work to protect and preserve the Internet’s core features, those benefits will go away. Prior to joining Mozilla, Chris worked as a program manager at the U.S. Department of State on Internet freedom, a policy counsel with the nonprofit public interest organization Free Press, and an attorney-advisor at the Federal Communications Commission.  

The Internet Society: Why is there a need for promoting a better understanding of technology amongst policy wonks, and of policy among technologists?

Chris Riley: While I started out as a mathematics and computer science student, I decided to shift into law and ultimately policy because I was concerned that the evolution of law and regulation around the tech industry wasn’t being driven from a point of technical clarity and understanding. I was worried  that this could have consequences, both intended and unintended, for the terrific socioeconomic benefits that we can and should derive from the Internet.

Today I say to every new cohort of employees at Mozilla that, as Lawrence Lessig once quipped, “code is law,” but “law is law,” too. Mozilla is at its strongest when we think about these things together, and the Internet is the same – when both the people building code and the people building legal systems have enough of a mutual understanding of what’s important and how the other works. The technologists need a broad policy understanding so that they can build that into their systems and their system policies; while the law and policy designers must have enough of an understanding of the technical side that they design law and policy that reflect and amplify the good parts of technology while leaving plenty of room for future flexibility, agility and innovation. I think it’s really those two things coming together that’s vital to the ecosystem as a whole.

How does Mozilla position itself in the Internet economy? Are you a platform?

Although there are some services that we have that are platform-ish (e.g. our acquisition of Pocket in 2017), the core of what we do is related to the fact that we’re a software company. Being a software company is really at the core of Mozilla’s ethos. We write open-source software and we distribute it to the world both as code and packages (downloads and applications).

I don’t expect Mozilla will, in the future, want to emerge as more of a platform company than a software company. We don’t have the scale or the style or the structure to do that. We’re small; we’re non-profit. We’re not ever going to be the model that’s geared towards the platform and social network economy of growing network effects at great debt in order to recuperate the economic benefits. We’re a mature and established business, and really focus on our strength as open-source software developers. That said, we have the right kind of expertise, mission and charter to speak for the Internet in a positive way. We’re therefore a hard-to-define duality of non-profit, mission-driven and software company. This is why it so hard to categorize us.

This year we’re focusing our annual Internet Futures report on consolidation in the Internet economy. We’re specifically investigating consolidation trends in the access, services and application layers of the Internet respectively, as well as consolidation trends acting vertically across layers (e.g. companies gaining dominance in more than one of the Internet’s layers).

Have you noticed a trend in this regard?

We’ve definitely noticed that the Internet is headed towards a more and more centralized future, defined in that sense by both horizontal and vertical centralization trends. We have fewer effective competitors who are presenting the same kinds of substitutable services to users, as well as fewer meaningful choices for users among servers within a single layer. In addition to horizontal consolidation, we’re also seeing many vertical mergers within the tech sector.

I think the world we live in now is too often one in which investment in start-up companies is geared towards reaching the point where they can be sold to one of the existing big players rather than grow into a big and independent enterprise itself. This is a challenge for me and for others because we grew up with an Internet where today’s big company is going to be tomorrow’s second tier. It’s not that I want to penalise any individual companies, but I want to believe in a market where we have the capacity to grow new companies that can become the giants of the next generation of the Internet. I’m not sure we’re there anymore. I think partly the reason why we’re not there is that some of the big companies today are aggressively staying ahead of the trend through massive investments in research and development and, to that extent, kudos to them, and may they continue to have the opportunity to outcompete others and continue to grow from that perspective.

But we’re reaching a point now where it’s going to be far too easy to bolster a weak product in one of these markets by effectively tying it to a dominant product in another market. And that’s the point where competition might have failed. That’s the point where we see good ideas get squelched not because of any technical or systematic problems with their design, implementation or approach, but simply because they weren’t being offered by or interested in being acquired by one of the existing dominant ecosystems.

How does this the trend impact Mozilla?

Concentration and consolidation is an issue that goes back to Mozilla’s history in a very deep way. We were effectively founded to respond to the duopoly of Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer. We decided users should have a choice in web browsing and so we created something that became effective and even better than what Microsoft was offering. The window of opportunity we had to create this product was aided in no small part by competition inquiries into Microsoft that were ongoing then. Today, we want to ensure that future Mozillas will have the space to see places where some things are underperforming and to then innovate. We’re looking for the same opportunities ourselves as we’re seeking to diversify our product portfolio beyond Firefox.

[To read more about Mozilla’s thoughts on the issue of dominance and APIs specifically, see Mozilla’s recent submission to the US Federal Trade Commission on competition and consumer protection as it affects communications systems such as the Internet.]

How has technology’s role in societies changed in the time since you’ve been working in this field? Have you perceived a backlash against the tech industry?

In the US, overwhelmingly so. In Europe, less so, because I feel that Europe was pretty much already there. I frequently categorize 2017 in the U.S. as the year that everyone starts to attack tech.  For many, many years, the tech industry had experienced a honeymoon period with the public and policymakers thanks to the scale of investment and growth, and the pace at which shiny new things that users like were produced by our industry.

We were forgiven the occasional (or so it seemed) negative social or economic  consequences that came with that. But that window of time has now closed. I think that time frame was shorter outside the US because many of the economic benefits that came from this industry were imbued here; it benefited the U.S. and the American economy. So those not quite so flushed with the economic benefits of the industry were quicker to see the unintended consequences and other social and economic harms that came from this model.

Certainly in the U.S., at least, we’ve seen growing awareness of problems associated with centralization. We’ve seen problems like the discrimination that can be reintroduced with machine learning systems that are trained by discriminatory data getting well-deserved public attention. We’ve seen incredible concerns with contentious and unpleasant, harmful, and sometimes illegal speech that appears on platforms and how platforms respond to that.

The world is therefore dramatically different now than to what it was two years ago in terms of how the public view the tech industry. I think it’s important for Mozilla and my colleagues in the tech industry to understand this dynamic and to really strive to make the Internet better. To try to turn that tide around. To acknowledge that there are problems and not everything is perfect. That we have to make some changes both internally and externally in the laws and regulations around us. We need to be serious, open, honest and collaborative in how we approach these problems so that we can get them solved.

What are your other fears for the future of the Internet?

I’m worried about a future of the Internet where users are choosing among four or five vertically integrated stacks of applications and services where they can’t pick and choose a heterogenous Internet experience from amongst them and where nobody with a brilliant idea can come up and create a new business because that space is already effectively occupied and there’s no room for them to grow, and no investment in their ideas because the economic model doesn’t make sense for a new business. If we reach a world where we have vertically integrated silos, competition would have failed. But I still very much believe that we can salvage it.

How should we prevent this from happening? Is competition law the best solution to these consolidation problems?

I’m worried that our understanding of competition law doesn’t deal with consolidation on the Internet properly, because traditional models of market concentration say that if you have four or five businesses that are relatively balanced, then you have a competitive market. But even if we had a competitive market in a traditional sense, it wouldn’t be the Internet.

I think there’s more that can be done with competition law and policy. The idea of U.S. antitrust law was to support consumer welfare, and it’s a powerful idea, one that hasn’t really been explored in the past thirty years or so. There’s a lot more room to interpret the existing legal precedents and statutes we already have. This is something the agencies could choose to pursue on their own, and we would welcome legislative interventions to make this a smoother process.

I think that the solution we should be pursuing in the near term as response to the consolidation trend is through competition law, rather than a reinterpretation or calling for a different kind of regulatory approach. It takes too long to do this: the last time that we tried to overhaul communications law in the United States (the Telecommunications Act of 1996), it was a twenty-year process.  If we take twenty years to address the challenge of centralization, the Internet will have been forever transformed and probably not for the better.

What are your hopes for the future of the Internet?

My hope is that we will see an industry-wide recognition of the impact and entanglement that our work has throughout our economy and our society and a humble and thoughtful approach to how best to approach and manage the responsibility that come with that. More and more open engagement with policymakers and with the public and a restoring of the public’s faith that technology and the Internet are here to make our lives and our world better and not worse. And I do actually believe that we can get there.

We’re getting ready to launch the 2018 Global Internet Report! Read the concept note and learn how the Internet Economy might shape our future.

Photo ©Karen de Jager

Economy Growing the Internet Women in Tech

Internet Access and Education: Transforming Lives in the Middle East

Internet access and the development of digital skills can transform lives of over 350 million people in the Middle East. With more than 60% of the population under 25 years old, the region is one of the most youthful in the world. However, at the same time, young people are the ones facing several challenges regarding education and employment.

In this context, it is imperative for the region to take actions, and the Internet is an opportunity to do it now. 

This week, I had the opportunity to speak at a panel entitled “Digital Skills for the Labour Force and Entrepreneurs,” at MENA Innovation 2018. The session was moderated by Selim Eddé, from Google, and had the participation of high-level representatives from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and UAE.

While it was clear that there are many ways to overcome the challenges of the region, all panelists agreed on one key aspect: the importance of education and entrepreneurship for building the future that the region needs.

For the Internet Society, three key factors need to be taken into account:

  • Internet access: the lack of access in the region is still a barrier that we need to overcome. However,access to the Internet not only means connectivity, but also it means better prices and better quality. Only an Internet that is accessible and affordable to everyone will provide the tools that our society need to develop digital skills and make the most of the digital economy.
  • Digital skills: ensuring the development of skilled, trained, and engaged people who can create, sustain, and maintain infrastructure is what we do at the Internet Society. For our region to be prepared for the future, we need to equip our people with the technical skills to support the development of technology and infrastructure. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is one platform that everybody can engage in to create open standards for the Internet.  There are very few engineers from the region who contribute to the development of the Internet.

Another challenge that we see in the region is the integration of women in STEM at an early stage. Women are not encouraged to pursue a STEM career, and if they do it only 25% of graduates participate in the workforce. For many participants and representatives, the digital gender gap is one that we need to break.

  • Local content: A lack of Arabic and local language content makes it harder for those with limited language skills and less education to get the most from the Internet. It is essential that people find and create relevant content and usable services in their own languages and, to do so.

Changing the Mindset

To move things forward in the region, we need to change the mindset of the community first.  When our parents want us to become successful government employees, we will never become entrepreneurs and take risks and chances to succeed.

All four components together can build an enabling environment that encourages young people to adopt and productively use the Internet and in a way that will benefit them and the region as a whole

Creating this environment, it is not an easy task. During the three days of the Summit, we learned about many different governmental initiatives that are already making a difference at the national levels. But if we want our region to thrive, we need to work together: governments, companies, and civil society organizationsConsidering the number of young people in the region it is also crucial to include youth in the conversation.

As it was said during a session: “If you want to go fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, work together”. Only by working collaboratively, the region can become drivers of innovation and shape its future to the needs of the youth of the region.

MENA Innovation 2018 took place in Cairo, 29–31 July, and was organized by Brains Innovation Summits with the support of the Egyptian government. The three-day event counted with the participation of Ministers of Education and ICT from different countries of the Middle East and Africa. The theme of the meeting was ICT innovation in education for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals  (SDGSs). The Internet Society was part of the official delegation of the Summit.

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Economy Internet Governance

Internet and Jobs: What Do Young People Think of the Future of Work?

When we talk about the impact of the Internet and technology on future jobs, is important to bring youth to the center of the discussion: they will live the future of work and can contribute to shaping it.

“The Internet and Jobs: A Youth Conversation,” held in Panama in June 2018, was a side event organized by the Internet Society in coordination with Y20 and the Youth Observatory that brought together a group of young people, students, lawyers, communicators, and entrepreneurs to discuss the topic.

What do young people think about the impact of the Internet on employment? How do they see themselves in this scenario? What tools are necessary to take full advantage of the opportunities that the Internet offers them? These were some of the most challenging questions addressed during the meeting.

While education was the key of the debate, several themes came up from the conversation:

  • Boosting digital skills by scaling initiatives:It was argued that the lack of digital skills is starting to amplify the digital divides as more and more jobs are requiring some level of digital skills. In this context, equipping children and youngsters with the skills required to enter the job market is more necessary than everGovernments, institutions, and industry must prioritize skills development and training to empower youth for the digital economy. While many initiatives are currently being implemented in different countries of Latin America, it is essential to scale them to have a more significant impact.
  • Developing skills that endure for life: While digital skills are essential for the future, particular attention was paid to skills that endure.Preparing youngsters for a lifetime will help them to understand the rapid evolution of technology better and adapt their skills to the different scenarios. Skills for life need to be better incorporated into the curricula not only to understand technology but also to help them on all spheres of life. Some of the skills mentioned were: assertive communication, perspective taking, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking.
  • Memorization vs. Critical Thinking: In primary education, memorization of information is still an essential part of the learning experience. As memorizing is precisely the thing that machines do best, participants highlighted the importance of critical thinking as a tool that will help youth to better prepare for the future as it will enable them to better understand emergent technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and machine learning.
  • Building capacities in rural communities:Rural areas face several challenges from the lack of infrastructure to the lack of specific training to use technology. As youth from Central America formed one of the breakout groups, they recommended improving the collaboration between stakeholders to provide not only better connectivity but also skills development in rural areas.

As it becomes crystal clear that quality education is essential for rethinking the future of work, the question, once again, is how to move forward. While a range of paths is possible, we cannot forget that we already have the tools to make the change: the Sustainable Development Goals.

As Claudio Lucerna, an AI researcher at the University of Paraiba in Brazil, addressed during the discussion: “When we talk about education and the future work we are talking about key issues of the global human agenda which is translated into the SDGs. They’re so important that it is fair to say that many other goals depend on these two. The good, adequate, open, democratic, and inclusive use of digital technologies and the Internet is the best opportunity in the history of humankind to scale tools, solutions, and practices that will help us fulfill those goals.”

When it comes to Internet Governance, we don’t just need young people to be the future – we need them to be part of the present. Apply to the Youth@IGF Programme!

Economy Internet Governance

Future Thinking: Roxanne Varza on the Internet Economy

In 2017, the Internet Society unveiled the 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future. The interactive report identifies the drivers affecting tomorrow’s Internet and their impact on Media & Society, Digital Divides, and Personal Rights & Freedoms. In June 2018, we interviewed two stakeholders –Biddemu Bazil Mwotta, who introduced an agribusiness app, and Roxanne Varza, the director of  a startup incubator  – to hear their different perspectives on the forces shaping the Internet.

Roxanne Varza is the director of Station F, a large and popular startup incubator in Paris which recently celebrated its first full year of operation and is already reported to be the largest startup campus in the world. Situated in a former railway shed, Station F provides a vibrant hub for more than 3,000 entrepreneurs and businesses, including upcoming as well as established organizations like Facebook, L’Oréal, and Microsoft. Born in California to Iranian parents, Roxanne moved to Paris in 2009 where she led Microsoft’s startup activities in France before joining Station F, which was created by the French billionaire Xavier Niel. (You can read Biddemu Bazil Mwotta’s interview here).

The Internet Society: With more than 1,000 startups in its halls, Station F is now the largest startup incubator in the world. How do you help startups to compete in a tech landscape seemingly dominated by a few tech giants, like Google, Facebook, and Amazon?

Roxanne Varza: The goal is different for every single startup. All the startups at Station F work in a massive, open space, which tends to mainly be appealing to younger companies. These include young companies with under 15 employees, without massive amounts of funding yet. But their goals will shift: they might one day aim to have private offices with more opportunity for strategic cooperation and the need for brand cohesion and so forth. For now, however, Station F provides a place for entrepreneurs who want to be surrounded by other entrepreneurs, with a space to collaborate and share resources in a cost-effective manner.

Essentially, Station F helps to get these startups off the ground: if they want to be acquired once they’re off the ground, that’s up to them. That said, when startups join Station F, they also join specific programmes. Participants of the Medtech programme, for instance, have very specific objectives and collaborate with hospitals, laboratories, and research institutions, for example. They are much less likely to want to be acquired. But if you look at Microsoft’s AI programme at Station F, for example, many of the participants might want to be in touch with big corporations.

Since opening its doors last June, Station F has welcomed entrepreneurs from various regions, including Britain, China, France, India, and the United States. Do you think Station F could offer a viable alternative to Silicon Valley for budding tech entrepreneurs?

We have a huge international demand. We had startups from over 50 different countries apply to join Station F before we started, and today over a third of our campus is international. And this even though we weren’t a referenced French visa partner at the time. I think if we were to invite more applications today, the fact that we can now assist with visa application processes should further increase foreign demand.

Station F has professed an interest in promoting meaningful technology as opposed to merely prioritizing tech which can be profitable. Why?

It’s always been really important to us to have strong values. And our belief in this value-driven approach has been reinforced through recent public challenges faced by various companies in the technology sector. Many tech companies have tended to prioritise growth over values as has been illustrated in the case of the #MeToo movement and Uber’s challenges, for example.

We feel particularly strong about diversity as a value, as we believe it is what powers innovation. Having people with similar profiles working on similar projects won’t lead to interesting innovations. For that reason, we’ve really emphasized diversity in our value system: we want men and women coming from all countries, underprivileged entrepreneurs, etc. We have a programme specifically for people who self-identify as being underprivileged, for example. To us, this kind of diversity is really where the most interesting innovation is coming from. 

You’ve also been involved in a number of projects aimed at promoting women in the tech industry (e.g., StartHer). Do you think women are as likely to progress in tech fields as their male counterparts?

Every woman has an anecdote about the difficulties of participating in the technology field today. On the other hand, sometimes being a woman can also be an advantage: you’re a minority so you stand out and people tend to remember you more. Having a different view or experience is also often beneficial to most startups and in the tech sector more broadly – and people are starting to recognize that. Today there are also many programmes and resources for women. In some ways, therefore, there has been no better time for women than now.

What is the role you envision for governments within three to five years to ensure the policy environment favours competition and nurtures new SMEs?

A lot of governments struggle to control newcomers that disrupt traditional systems, like Uber did to the transport system. Often governments take quite an extreme reaction when they don’t know how to react or what to do. While entrepreneurs would love zero regulation, we now have examples like the Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica scandal that show we need some regulation and safeguards. And we as the tech sector need to be much more aware of what we’re doing – especially with the massive quantities of data that are now out there.

I therefore support regulation, but I think that oftentimes, and unfortunately, the people designing the regulations are not tech experts themselves. When we look at GDPR, for example, many people have said that if you understand technology today, GDPR was relevant to technology five years ago, not today. And that’s my only real criticism of regulation and government interference – not that we don’t need regulation, but that we need smart regulation done by people from the industry that is also more future-proof than current legislation.

Some have voiced concerns about the future of work due to technological changes. Do you think these concerns are founded?

I think the future of work is going to change whether we like it or not. People are working in different locations, different hours. It’s beneficial in many ways. Especially for women. We need to find a model that fits. Work will be disrupted, so we need to adapt.

Some governments’ responses to concerns about the future of work have often been to prescribe coding as part of school curricula. Is this all we need, or do we need to reinforce some other skills too?

A lot of countries have reverted to teaching children code. I think, in the future, we will all need a basic or minimum understanding of code, just like a basic understanding of the English language is useful today. But not everyone will be programmers. More importantly than code, I believe, is the need to teach future generations responsibility and humanity.

What are your fears for the future of the Internet?

I see how horrible people can be to each other over the Internet. I cannot fathom what it must be like for a child to be exposed to so much bullying today. The Internet has become the place where people openly hate each other. So I fear that online abuse will remain unresolved and will be allowed to overshadow the good the Internet also offers.

What are your hopes for the future of the Internet?

How will I know what is going to happen tomorrow? That’s what I love about it, actually. There’s so many new things we can do – everything is becoming more personalized; everything is changing. I have no idea where we’ll be tomorrow or the next year. And that’s what’s so great about the Internet.

What do you think the future of the Internet looks like? Explore the 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future to see how the Internet might transform our lives across the globe, then choose a path to help shape tomorrow.

Economy Internet Governance Shaping the Internet's Future

Future Thinking: Biddemu Bazil Mwotta on the Internet Economy

Last year, the Internet Society unveiled the 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future. The interactive report identifies the drivers affecting tomorrow’s Internet and their impact on Media & Society, Digital Divides, and Personal Rights & Freedoms. In June 2018, we interviewed two stakeholders –Biddemu Bazil Mwotta, who introduced an agribusiness app, and Roxanne Varza, the director of  a startup incubator  – to hear their different perspectives on the forces shaping the Internet.

Biddemu Bazil Mwotta, a 25 under 25 awardee, introduced the mobile-agribusiness-app AgroDuuka, which connects farmers directly with buyers in Uganda, his home country. AgroDuuka creates a market for local farmers, where there was none before, and eliminates the cost of working through intermediaries. To date, it has connected more than 800 smallholder farmers from 36 villages to buyers throughout Uganda. (You can read Roxanne Varza’s interview here).

The Internet Society: The AgroDuuka app, which you developed, bridges traditional barriers for farmers who want to access new markets by connecting them directly with buyers. Why did you develop the app?

Biddemu Bazil Mwotta: I grew up in an agricultural community in rural Uganda. My mother is a farmer, and I always used to help her in her garden. I realized that my mother and many other farmers in community were being exploited by middle agents who were buying produce from them and selling the produce at exorbitant prices in urban areas. AgroDuuka thus empowers farmers like my mother with information – information like market prices in the region and broader.

For my mother, the Internet has had a significantly positive effect on her life. She can now sell her produce to the right buyers and the right price, and can make a profit – something she rarely did before. And most people in my community are very happy about this. My mother also has more time at hand – time which she would normally have used to travel to markets, she can now use to do other things.

What’s it like for startups like yours to compete in a tech landscape seemingly dominated by a few tech giants, like Google, Facebook, and Amazon? 

It is difficult for startups to compete in the tech landscape due to limited funds for scaling up. On the other hand, big tech companies enjoy economies of scale, for instance.

What is hindering wider adoption of your app?

I really believe the Internet can influence development in Uganda and Africa more broadly – as apps like mine have shown. But in Uganda, very few people actually have access to the Internet. And it’s really hard to include them in the potential benefits if they don’t have actual access. A lack of infrastructure in Uganda is probably the biggest barrier to Internet access, especially in rural areas. But even in some urban areas like Kampala the quality and speed of the Internet is often limited. Without improving access levels, and the quality of access that is available, our people won’t be able to benefit from the Internet’s potential for development.

Where do you hope to be by 2022 – or what do you hope to have achieved? What are your hopes for your mother and other agricultural entrepreneurs using your app?

In 2022, I hope AgroDuuka will take lead in the offering of the fairer agricultural trade transactions in the world. We hope to have a global agricultural community. I hope that my mother and other farmers will not be dependent on the local market by 2022. Theirs, I hope, will be a global market in which they can sell to countries across Europe, America, and Asia, for instance. The whole world should be open to them.

What are your fears and hopes for the future of the Internet?

I am afraid that people will cause harm online and offline which will not only prevent the Internet from supporting development, but which could also risk humanity. But even more so, I’m afraid that the inequality gap will increase for people who don’t have access to the Internet. They will be left further behind.

I hope that everybody is able to access the Internet, as I believe the Internet will be at the centre of development for all communities in Uganda and beyond. The Internet can give us all equal opportunities – and can therefore promote equality in its own way.

What do you think the future of the Internet looks like? Explore the 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future to see how the Internet might transform our lives across the globe, then choose a path to help shape tomorrow.

About Internet Society Economy Technology

Reflecting on the Internet Society’s 2017 Asia-Pacific Activities

The Asia-Pacific Bureau has been producing an annual snapshot of its activities and initiatives for a couple of years now, and we are pleased to present the 2017 edition. While it is not meant to be an exhaustive record of all that we did, it does provide a good overview of our activities in the region.

In addition to the Bureau’s core programmes, our Chapters are also very active in their local communities and, as volunteer-led entities, do amazing work in helping to support and carry out the Internet Society’s mission at the local level. We invited our chapters in the region to submit a summary of their activities, and the submissions that made it before the deadline are included in the report.

As I reflect on 2017, it probably stands out as the year the digital economy began to cement itself in the Asia-Pacific. Across the region, numerous developments, from the emergence (and to some extent, dominance) of local technology firms to new policies designed to facilitate the growth of connected societies all signify that countries in the largest region of the world – both in geography and population – are finally putting their plans into action.

Nowhere is this more evident than in China, the world’s second largest economy. Last year, tech giant Tencent, the parent company of WeChat, became the first Asian firm to break into the 500-billion-dollar league, with Alibaba not far behind. Both made their fortunes cornering a domestic market of 750 million Internet users and earn most of their revenue from mobile users.

These companies, like many in Asia-Pacific, thrive on business models that are different from those that have made their Western counterparts successful: Alibaba charges merchants to advertise on its platform, rather than taking a cut from the sale of goods, as Amazon does. Unlike Facebook, Tencent derives most of its profit from selling virtual items, such as emoticons, to its users. The digital economy in China is now said to constitute 30% of its economy, and the sharing economy is expected to see a 40% increase annually.

The rise of large Internet companies in Asia-Pacific, coupled by the continued expansion of global firms in local markets, has not gone unnoticed by governments, many of which are keen to regulate (and in some cases tax) those that are making money from transactions and engagement with their citizens.

Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, reached a settlement with Google over back taxes, while Viet Nam is facing pressure from local industries to force foreign businesses like to pay contractor taxes currently shouldered by domestic partners. China is taking a different tack, pushing for a 1% stake and a direct role in corporate decisions in some of its biggest tech firms, even as these begin to ignite fears of market dominance.

In South Korea, web portal Naver, which occupies 70% of news and media search space, was subjected to parliamentary audit for its monopoly over the country’s Internet ecosystem. Both South Korea and Japan are looking at anti-trust policies to limit technology services companies from having exclusive access to big data.

Notwithstanding hiccups – such as the multiple data breaches that followed the rollout of India’s digital identity system, Aadhar – Asia-Pacific countries remain resolute in laying the groundwork for a more technology-driven economy.

There is also an emphasis on equipping people from all walks of life with specialised skills to prepare them for a digital future – from FinTech courses for university students in Hong Kong, to Singapore’s SkillsFuture for Digital Workspace, which aims to train citizens to maximise ICT use both for personal and business purposes.

While challenges remain – security issues, for instance, are on the rise in many parts of the region – Asia-Pacific on the whole is recognising the benefits that the Internet can bring, propelling societies, industries and economies to advance and develop in ways that could transform the region’s countries and communities into models for the rest of the world to follow.

As we approach the mid-way point of 2018, the Internet Society’s campaigns-based approach on key issues is paying dividends, and we look forward to reporting on another stellar year of developments and achievements in the 2018 edition of The Year That Was.

To keep up-to-date with where we are and what we are doing throughout the year, please follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook and subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

Economy Growing the Internet Human Rights Internet Governance

Building the Digital Silk Road Together: Kyrgyz Chapter Proposes Ideas for Internet Development in Central Asia at Cambridge University Forum

Central Asia, the most remote landlocked mountainous region in the world, has some of the most expensive Internet in global comparison. The cost of it can easily reach 10-20% of average monthly salary. In absolute terms, the price of the Internet can reach triple digits for 1 Mbps.

Acknowledging such challenges and considering the benefits that the Internet can bring, Central Asian governments are embarking on national digitalization strategies. The Kyrgyz Republic has launched a national program on digital transformation “Taza Koom” (“Transparent Society”). The program focuses on building an open government and a digital economy.

When it comes to digital development strategies, cooperation among countries is a mutually beneficial approach. To foster such collaboration, Cambridge University initiated a common platform called Digital Dialogue for Central Asia. The first meeting of this platform Making Inroads into Digital Transformation took place in Astana in April 2018.

Speaking at the forum on behalf of the Internet Society’s Kyrgyz Chapter, I proposed to jointly build the Digital Silk Road guided by the slogan: “free movement of ideas, people, creativity, technology and innovation”. Central Asia, with its favourable geographical location in Eurasia, could become the connecting host and focal point – a global digital hub – connecting different continents.

The region has talented people and beautiful nature that offers energy and inspiration. The Internet has become our ocean of possibilities and Central Asia can be the virtual window to the entire Eurasian region.

As a specific proposal for innovative cooperation, we proposed the idea of extending the network of fiber-optic communications lines through the territory of the Central Asia connecting the East and the West. Simultaneously, the World Bank is helping connect the South and the North through the Digital CASA project.

Another idea under implementation with the support of the Internet Society’s Beyond the Net Programme is the Digital Silk Road IXP in the Ferghana Valley, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, bordering three Central Asia countries of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Improving Internet connectivity in Central Asia would bring many economic opportunities and social benefits to the citizens of the Central Asian countries. This is a mutually beneficial effort that would help the region to leapfrog in terms of sustainable economic development. The region that was the world’s centre of culture and science during the times of the Ancient Silk Road gets a new chance to become one of the vibrant regions of the globe thanks to the Digital Silk Road.

The discussions on Internet development in Central Asia will continue at the Central Asian Internet Governance Forum on 21-22 June in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Learn more about Internet Governance and why every voice matters.