Digital Watch newsletter - Issue 37 - January 2019

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IG Barometer for January

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

World leaders attending the WEF annual meeting stressed the need for global co-operation to tackle the challenges that come with technological progress. To this end, the Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution expanded to more emerging economies, to support them in the development of adequate policies. The Forum also launched an Artificial Intelligence Council to work on addressing issues such as ethics and AI and the future of work.

The IGF community started preparations for the 14th Internet Governance Forum (IGF), with the first round of Open Consultations and a meeting of the Multistakeholder Advisory Group. Many participants outlined the need for innovation to make the IGF more relevant, focused, and attractive.

Sustainable development

same relevance

The UN Secretary General’s Task Force on Digital Financing of the Sustainable Development Goals held its first meeting and started working on recommendations to harness the potential of financial technologies to advance the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

A draft paper prepared by the Secretariat of the UN Conference on Trade and Development notes that rapid technological change offers a significant opportunity to achieve the SDGs, but also poses new challenges for policy-making, threatening to outpace the capacity of governments and society to adapt.


increasing relevance

Cyber-attacks, data fraud or theft, and critical information infrastructure breakdowns are among the top 10 global risks for 2019, according to the WEF. Redbanc, the company that connects the ATM network of Chilean banks, disclosed that it was infiltrated by hackers in December 2018.

France will use cyber-weapons, in addition to traditional weapons, to respond and attack, according to Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly. The Philippines launched a Cybersecurity Management System Project, to protect government agencies from cybersecurity threats and attacks. Google's cybersecurity incubator Jigsaw expands its Project Shield for political organisations in Europe, allowing them to protect their websites from attacks, in the context of EU parliamentary elections in May 2019.

According to TechCrunch, Islamic State supporters hijacked dormant Twitter accounts to spread terrorist propaganda.

E-commerce and Internet economy

increasing relevance

Seventy-six members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) have expressed their intention to start negotiations of trade-related aspects of e-commerce.

Indonesia is introducing new rules requiring e-commerce companies to share financial data with authorities, while reiterating the need for such companies to pay their fair share of taxes. Austria intends to require major Internet companies to pay a 3% tax of their advertising revenue. The Spanish government is proposing a 3% revenue tax for large Internet companies. Chile is also exploring the possibility of a 19% tax for multinational Internet companies.

The controversies around an EU digital tax continue. While the Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici acknowledged that it would be difficult for member states to agree on such a tax, the Commission is proposing that new EU tax rules are approved by a qualified majority in the Council, as opposed to the current unanimity rule.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has issued a regulation requiring blockchain service providers to register with the CAC, and banning them from using the technology to produce and disseminate illicit information.

The French Appeals Court ruled that a former Uber driver was an employee, because he could not choose his clients or decide on his rates. An opposing ruling was issued by a court in Brussels, which ruled that Uber drivers cannot be considered employees because they are free to choose their work time. The same ruling also stated that Uber does not provide transportation services.

Indonesia plans to regulate the minimum and maximum tariffs for ride-hailing services, in response to drivers’ demands for more oversight. Uber and Cabify have decided to suspend their services in Barcelona, after regional authorities introduced tighter rules.

Digital rights

increasing relevance

The French National Data Protection Commission fined Google €50 million for failing to comply with provisions of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) related to transparency and consent. The Irish Data Protection Commission is investigating Twitter’s compliance with the GDPR. The European Commission adopted an adequacy decision on Japan, recognising that the country has safeguards in place to guarantee that personal data is protected at EU standards.

In what is being described as one of the country’s worst cybersecurity breaches, hackers recently revealed the personal data of hundreds of German politicians, journalists, and celebrities.

A judge in California, USA has ruled that law enforcement agencies may not compel suspects to unlock devices with biometric identifiers, calling the practice unconstitutional.

Several Internet restrictions – ranging from the blocking of social media channels to complete Internet shutdowns – were reported this month around the world, in Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.

Jurisdiction and legal issues

increasing relevance

As part of the legal case between Google and the French data protection authority on the enforcement of the right to be forgotten at the global level, The Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European Union has proposed that the Court limits the scope of the right to be forgotten in the EU.

Russia’s communications regulator opened administrative proceedings against Facebook and Twitter for failure to comply with data localisation rules.

India is proposing new rules requiring Internet intermediaries to remove and disable access to unlawful content at the request of authorities, and to deploy tools for ‘proactively identifying and removing or disabling access to unlawful content’. WhatsApp and Twitter criticised the proposed rules as being against privacy and leading to censorship.

The proposed EU copyright directive might not be adopted anytime soon, as EU member states failed to agree on some of the most controversial provisions on the ‘link tax’ and upload filters.

In Singapore, the Ministry of Law is proposing changes to copyright legislation, ‘to better support creators and the use and enjoyment of creative work in the digital age’.


decreasing relevance

The South Pacific island nation of Tonga lost access to the Internet as the undersea fibre cable was severed, possibly by the anchor of a ship.

The European Commission has decided to harmonise the radio spectrum in the 3.4-3.8 GHz band to enable future use of 5G across EU countries.

As of January 2019, the contract to deploy a fibre optic undersea cable between Latin America and Europe is in force. By 2020, the cable will enable high broadband connectivity between the two continents.

Net neutrality

same relevance

In the USA, the net neutrality debate is set to continue in court, as the Federal Appeals Court denied a request from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to postpone the start of the proceedings in the suit filed against the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules. On the industry side, the lack of net neutrality rules has not led to increased investments in infrastructure, as the FCC had claimed; it was revealed that three major telecom companies – Comcast, Charter, and Verizon – lowered their capital expenditures in 2018.

New technologies (IoT, AI, etc.)

increasing relevance

The Japanese government is planning to randomly hack into about 200 million Internet of Things (IoT) devices to test the security of the devices and identify potential cyber vulnerabilities. Singapore launched a public consultation on an IoT Cyber Security Guide to promote cybersecurity practices among IoT developers and users.

The AI4EU project was launched on 1 January 2019, as a pan-EU initiative to create an open and collaborative platform to foster economic growth in the EU through the use of AI.

The Central Board of Secondary Education in India has decided to introduce AI as an optional subject for students in the eighth, ninth, and tenth grades. According to Tan Sri Richard Malanjum, Malaysian's chief justice, judges in the country will soon begin using AI to help them issue more consistent decisions.

Singapore released a model governance framework for AI, built on two principles: AI-based decisions that are explainable, transparent, and fair; and human-centric AI solutions.

Facebook and the Technical University of Munich have announced co-operation in developing a research centre to focus on ethics in the context of AI.

Microsoft signed a co-operation memorandum with the district government of Pudong New Area (Shanghai) to launch an AI and IoT lab in Shanghai.

AI was among the most prominent topics at the this year's WEF meeting. According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel global co-operation and engagement through a collective architecture are needed to address AI-related challenges. UN Secretary-General António Guterres referred to a need to integrate new technologies such as AI in the laws of war.

Geneva digital developments

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

Science fiction meets policy | Policy meets science fiction

Identified as a tentative process of cross-fertilisation, this event that took place on 15 January [link] addressed the question: What can sci-fi teach us about digital politics and its future? With the interdisciplinary participation of policymakers, diplomats, designers, writers, it brought different ways of thinking to the international architecture of Geneva in an attempt to identify major digital trends in the near future. The final part of the workshop consisted of four parallel interactive sessions. The groups were led by experts who zoomed in on sci-fi and digital politics from different perspectives and provided hands-on practical exercises to challenge participants to think outside the box. Read the event report.

AI and the Law Public Conference

The AI and the Law public conference, which took place on 16 January, was organised by the Law Faculty of the University of Geneva in collaboration with the Geneva-Harvard-Renmin-Sydney Platform. The conference tackled issues raised by the evolution and development of AI, focusing specifically on the latest developments in robotics. So-called smart robots are now able to interact with humans and the environment, in addition to being able to learn, adapt, evolve, and therefore make autonomous decisions. The conference featured discussions on the global impact of AI on the law, the concept of choice and optimisation, the identification of state responsibility in case of cyber-attacks, and finally, on the humanitarian implications of the use of AI.

Launch of the International Labour Organization Global Commission on the Future of Work report

On 22 January, on the  occasion of its centenary, the ILO Commission on the Future of Work published its report Work for a brighter future. The Commission was composed of 27 members from leading figures of the business and labour sector, think tanks, academia, and non-governmental organisations. In the report, the Commission calls for a human-centred agenda for a decent future of work, issuing ten key recommendations and pushing for the provision of a universal labour guarantee, a social protection guarantee, and a lifelong learning guarantee, among others. Challenges caused by new technology and climate change are taken into account and the need to find a collective response to these issues is emphasised in order to avoid potential negative impacts on the future of work. Experts recognised the risk of job losses caused by AI and automation but also pointed out the potential of these technologies for the creation of new jobs if implemented investing in people’s capabilities and the existing institutions of work.

De-Briefing of the meetings of the UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation and the Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace

On 25 January, the GIP hosted a debriefing on the meetings of the United Nations Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation (HLP.DC) and the Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace (GCSC). After four months of intensive public consultations and discussions, the HLP.DC started drafting its report and recommendations during the Geneva meeting (21-22 January). The Panel will hold another round of consultations on the draft report and recommendations. The final report will be submitted to the UN Secretary General on 31st May. The GCSC is a multistakeholder initiative formed by a selected group of experts working to make sure that silos can make a more informed decision and avoid norm collision. The work of the Commission follows a bottom-up approach which starts by considering the politically binding norms in cyberspace (e.g. the core beliefs shared within a multistakeholder environment). At present, the GCSC has a working definition of cyber stability that is still under revision. The Commission is currently open to suggestions about cyber stability, and it is expected to make final recommendations by the end of 2019. Read the event report.

The launch of the World Intellectual Property Organization report on AI

On 31 January, WIPO launched its first 'Technology Trends' report, on AI, which shows that there has been a significant increase in AI-based inventions and patent filing, and that the technology is making its way into mainstream markets. It further identifies the most active stakeholders in AI technology development from industry and academia as well as the geographical distribution of AI patent protection. AI patents are mostly filed by US companies; IBM and Microsoft are named as having the largest AI portfolio in terms of patent applications. Most patent filings concern machine learning techniques.

Issue no. 37 of the Digital Watch newsletter, published on 6 February 2019, by the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) and DiploFoundation | Contributors: Stephanie Borg Psaila (Editor), Efrat Daskal, Andre Edwards, Arvin Kamberi, Marco Lotti, Nataša Perućica, Ilona Stadnik, Sorina Teleanu | Design by Viktor Mijatović, layout by Aleksandar Nedeljkov, Diplo’s CreativeLab