Regulating digital platforms from and for the Global South

9 Dec 2021 10:15h - 11:45h

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In the Global South, platforms are changing the societies they inhabit. There is an intense link between the platforms and the individual because of the individual’s personal data. This is not true for other big consumer companies or corporations. Unlike pharma, oil, and other industries, big tech and digital platforms are embedded in the economy and have a very important civic function. Never before have private companies been moderators of a constitutionally guaranteed right in any country: freedom of expression.  

Europe is working on regulations that do not ban any practices or prescribe any conduct for platforms but instead provide stronger protection for businesses and users. Europe has three legislative acts in the pipeline – the Digital Services Act, the Digital Markets Act, and the Artificial Intelligence Act.

In the Global South, this discussion is a lot more complex. There, platforms have the power to create positive economic benefits for society. The centralised structure of platforms – i.e. socialising the cost and privatising the profits – is the starting point of problems. Most of the dominant platforms evade taxes, do not contribute to society, and seldom obey rules such as labour and environmental laws. Small businesses and users are at the mercy of a few good platforms to run their businesses.

India, for instance, is building its own platforms, for example, a digital ID and the recent UPI payments infrastructure that stopped the monopoly of credit card businesses. The government believes that the platform layer should be ruled by the government and owned by society with applications being built by the private sector. Another trend is global big tech partnering with domestic companies like Jio to come up with common platforms, devices, etc. Regulations being discussed in India are to do with non-personal data being open data, a personal data protection bill based on the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), intermediary liability rules, data localisation, open infrastructure for digital commerce, etc.

In Africa, most laws enacted by governments are still too new and oftentimes vaguely worded. In non-democratic countries, leaders use regulations to stifle dissidents instead of regulating digital platforms to help the economy. These regulations are mostly made by the governments without much stakeholder consultation. For rules levied by international platforms, the one-size-fits-all approach does not work in Africa. For instance, Facebook fights against hate speech but in Africa, people post in over 800 local languages making it impossible for platforms and their algorithms to detect or fight online hate speech.

In Argentina there is no specific law for content moderation. There are three main personal data laws with the major premise being that all personal data belongs to the user. Their major challenge is the enforcement of these laws. As a lot of platforms do not have offices in Argentina, it is harder to work with them. It is not easy to regulate the platforms without their cooperation. Coregulation not self-regulation is the way to go in the Global South.

A broader Global South country alliance or a harmonisation of the continent in the case of Africa, and agreeing on stronger regulation and stronger standards that are not necessarily inspired or dictated by G20 countries will help greatly in protecting countries with vulnerable governments and challenge big tech. While one country may not be able to address the issues, a congregation of countries might.

By Mili Semlani

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