Digital Watch newsletter - Issue 38 - February/March 2019

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IG Barometer for February/March

The monthly Internet Governance Barometer of Trends tracks specific Internet governance issues in the public policy debate, and reveals focal trends by comparing the issues every month. The barometer determines the presence of specific IG issues in comparison to the previous month. Learn more about each update.

Global IG architecture

same relevance

During the 32nd Assembly of the African Union, heads of states and governments called for digital transformation of the continent.

Participants in the Going Digital Summit, organised by the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation (OECD) discussed opportunities and challenges of the digital economy. Session reports are available on the Digital Watch observatory.

The United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation launched a digital tool to support south-south digital cooperation.

Sustainable development

same relevance

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asian outlined recommendations for harnessing digital technologies for development in the Arab region.

The World Government Summit called on public sector organisations to integrate big data into decision making processes and to develop digital agendas.

The UK and South Africa will co-lead the Commonwealth Digital Connectivity Agenda, to support digital trade.


increasing relevance

The European Commission ordered the recall of Enox Safe-Kid-One children’s smartwatches. The Commission also set up an Expert Group on Safer Internet for Children to improve co-operation between member states in protecting children rights online. The African Union made an urgent call for the protection of children online.

The EU is reportedly developing a sanctions regime to deter and respond to cyber-attacks involving data breaches, intellectual property theft and stealing of classified information, attacks on IT and critical infrastructure, and election hacks. The European Parliament adopted the Cybersecurity Act, which defines cybersecurity certification schemes for products, processes, and services.

The Council of the EU adopted the EU Law Enforcement Emergency Response Protocol, outlining procedures, roles, and responsibilities of key agencies in providing response to cross-border cyber incidents.

NATO is developing a Cyber Security Collaboration Hub for its member states to gather information and collaborate in an encrypted workspace.

Australia detected an attack on the national parliament’s computer network and believes that a sophisticated state actor is responsible. A US cybersecurity company Maltese Bank of Valletta was affected by a cyber-breach which allowed hackers to transfer €13 million to accounts in the USA, the UK, the Czech Republic, and Hong Kong.

E-commerce and Internet economy

increasing relevance

India’s Competition Commission is looking into whether Google has abused its position on the mobile operating systems market. France unveiled plans to impose a 3% tax on large Internet companies.

Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, the Netherlands, and Sweden oppose the European Commission’s proposal to remove the veto power that member states have over EU tax reforms. This has implications for the previously proposed EU tax for large Internet companies.

Uber agreed to pay a €2.3 million fine to settle charges for violating the Taxi Act in the Netherlands. The company also consented to paying $20 million to settle US drivers class action.

Arizona attorney found no basis for criminal liability for Uber in the 2018 self-driving car accident.

Multinational bank J.P. Morgan Chase & Co created the first US bank-backed cryptocurrency, the JPM coin, equivalent to 1 USD. The coin will be used for instantaneous payments between institutional accounts. Facebook gets closer to creating its own cryptocurrency.

Luxembourg created a regulatory framework for blockchain transactions, giving them the same legal status as traditional transactions. The German Ministry of Finance has urged the introduction of a regulatory framework for blockchain-based securities.

Digital rights

increasing relevance

The German Federal Cartel Office ordered Facebook to stop combining users’ data from other Facebook-owned platforms such as WhatsApp and Instagram, without voluntary consent. In the USA, the New York governor ordered an investigation into Facebook accessing and collecting personal data from users’ mobile apps. A new Privacy International report indicates that major Android apps still send data to Facebook. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg indicated the company’s intention to develop a ‘privacy-focused vision for social networking’.

In its fourth evaluation of the Code of Conduct on Countering Illegal Hate Speech Online, the European Commission concludes that the code is an ‘effective tool to face hate speech’. IT companies are reviewing the majority of notifications within 24 hours and are removing 72% of the notified content. The UN Secretary-General mandated his Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide to create a UN team to prepare a strategy and action plan against hate speech. France announced a plan of action against hateful content online, requiring online platforms to strengthen measures against the spread of  hate speech and to be transparent in their decisions involving content moderation.

At the request of the Bombay High Court in India, Facebook and Google explained that they are introducing enhanced rules for political advertisement ahead of the country’s general elections.

Partner organisations of the Council of Europe’s Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists call on states to improve conditions for media freedom and provide legal and practical protections for journalists.

The UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion called on the EU to bring the Copyright Directive in line with freedom of expression standards.

Online tools which track user behaviour for advertisers were found on UK governmental and health websites.

The Council of Europe issued a new set of guidelines on the protection of health-related data.

Jurisdiction and legal issues

increasing relevance

EU institutions reached a political agreement on the Copyright Directive, requiring online platforms to conclude licensing agreements with rights-holders to feature their work online.

Huawei sued the US government over an equipment ban.

The European Commission fined Google €1.49 billion for abusing its dominant position in the market for online advertising.

Tech firms proposed policy principles for planned Internet regulation to the UK government.

Social media platforms were placed under increased scrutiny, following New Zealand shooting.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning the dissemination of fake news online.


same relevance

NATO is holding internal consultations on Huawei security concerns.

The Port of Marseille plans to build a new subsea cable landing infrastructure to make it easier for subsea cables to land in Europe. Russia intends to lay a new fibre optic cable along its Arctic coast.

Facebook and Vodafone Ghana are launching a joint project to provide low-cost Wi-Fi services in Ghana.

The cost of Internet access in 2018 dropped everywhere in the world except in low-income countries, study shows.

New generic top-level domains and universal acceptance for Internationalised Domain Names were in focus at ICANN64.

Net neutrality

decreasing relevance

According to a study on the net neutrality situation in the EU, zero-rating practices implemented by wireless providers have led to an increase in the cost of wireless data, compared to countries without zero-rating practices.

A new bill to restore net neutrality was introduced in the US Congress.

New technologies (IoT, AI, etc.)

increasing relevance

US President Donald Trump presented the American AI Initiative, while the Department of Defense launched its own AI strategy. India plans to launch a new national programme on AI. The UK will allocate up to £100 million for a programme focused on training the next generation of AI experts.

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted a Declaration on the manipulative capabilities of algorithmic processes, drawing attention to the threats that automated systems could pose to human rights.

The UK launched a public consultation on a code of practice for testing automated vehicles in public places. The European Telecommunications Standards Institute released a cybersecurity standard for IoT products.

AI weapons may be harder to control than nuclear ones, warned former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

According to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), AI developments  should be aligned with ROAM principles – human rights, openness, accessibility, and multistakeholder governance.

Facebook announced a new AI tool to fight revenge porn online.

Geneva digital developments

Policy discussions take place in Geneva every day. The following updates cover the main events of the month. For event reports, visit the Past Events section on the GIP Digital Watch observatory.

Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week (HNPW)  

The conference, which ran on 4–8 February, was dedicated to consultations and discussions on humanitarian networks and partnerships. Benefiting from the contribution of experts in crisis preparedness and response, the conference also addressed digital-related topics. The week highlighted the work of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ (OCHA) Center for Humanitarian Data, and the Humanitarian Data Exchange, and highlighted projects such as iTRACK, funded by the European Commission.. The event highlighted the challenges and opportunities related to the collection of large amounts of personal data for humanitarian purposes, the importance for data protection, and the responsibility of stakeholders when collecting and using data for humanitarian activities.

Read the event report.

40th Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC)

The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy’s report, submitted during the 40th session which ran from 25 February to 22 March, focused on intelligence oversight and data exchanges among different intelligence agencies. The report concluded that  regional legal frameworks ensuring data protection (e.g. the EU’s GDPR) ‘while important [...] are not sufficient for extending privacy protection to the field of national security’. More legal certainty in protecting privacy in the surveillance field was needed, especially with regard to data exchanges among different security agencies. The report includes the results of the rapporteur’s work on privacy and gender, as well as privacy and health data.  Side events tackled the issue of the right to privacy in the digital world and the relevance of human rights standards in the era of artificial intelligence (AI).

Read the events reports.

30th anniversary of the World Wide Web at CERN

On 20 March, CERN celebrated the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web with a discussion with web pioneers and leading experts on the challenges and opportunities of innovative technologies, past, present, and future. The first panel discussed the early evolution of the Internet, and how it thrived on its open and public nature. The second panel focused on the technology evolution, and future challenges and opportunities. One major challenge related to the collection of user data. Since privacy notions vary around the world, the challenge is to foster cooperation among different sociocultural spaces. There is still a need for current international institutions to discuss data governance outside silos.

Read the event report

Symposium on the Future Networked Car

Panellists during the Symposium organised by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), on 7 March, addressed issues of standards for networked cars to increase road safety as well as cybersecurity concerns for connected cars. Discussions focused on the implementation of AI in car modules and inboard systems to assist drivers, and the use of self-driving cars. The panellists spoke about the deployment of automated mobility services and how their implementation will affect suppliers of car manufacturers. They also discussed the impact of existing and draft regulations on the development of networked and automated cars.

Read the event report.

Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (GGE LAWS)

The discussions, which took place on 25–29 March at the Palais des Nations, focused on the need to define autonomous systems, and their compliance with International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Discussions stressed the need for a greater understanding of how reliable and predictable fully autonomous systems are. Systems designed to conduct military operations without human intervention are of special concern. A qualitative measurement is needed in order to comply with the principles of proportionality, distinction, and precaution, which can be ensured only by human commanders and combatants, and therefore, by ‘meaningful’ human control.

Read the event reports

Roundtable on International Digital Governance

The roundtable, organised by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) on 28 March, highlighted the rapid developments caused by the digitalisation of societies. The French Ambassador on Digitisation presented France’s priorities for an open and free Internet. Panellists focused on harnessing new technologies such as blockchain, and noted the importance of regulating it early on in its development. Another challenge was taxation of the digital economy: the OECD’s base erosion and profit shifting project (BEPS) was highlighted as an example of finding global solutions to transnational problems.

Issue no. 38 of the Digital Watch newsletter, published by the Geneva Internet Platform and DiploFoundation | Contributors: Stephanie Borg Psaila (Editor), Jainee Feliz-Cabrera, Andrijana Gavrilović, Stefania Grottola, Pavlina Ittelson, Marco Lotti, Natalie Meyer, Clement Perarnaud, Vladimir Radunović, Sorina Teleanu | Design by Viktor Mijatović, layout by Aleksandar Nedeljkov, Diplo’s CreativeLab