Digital Watch newsletter - Issue 35 - October 2018

Download your copy

IG Barometer for October

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 fifth EUUS Cyber Dialogue, the EU and USA endorsed the previous work of the UN Group of Governmental Experts (UN GGE), in particular the consensus reports of 2013 and 2015. They also expressed willingness to participate in a new UN GGE to discuss the applicability of existing international law to cyberspace. 

Sustainable development

same relevance

In its latest report, Trade and Development Report 2018: Power, Platforms and the Free Trade Delusion, UNCTAD addressed the state of the world’s economic system and emphasised the need for more policies that favour inclusion in the global digital economy.

Policies needed to achieve affordable Internet are developing too slowly, accordingto the 2018 Affordability Report published by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI). Over 60% of the countries studied still have prohibitive connection costs; island nations experience the highest costs to connect. 


increasing relevance

Two cybersecurity-related resolutions have been introduced in the First Committee of the UN General Assembly. 

Facebook revealed that hackers stole access tokens of about 30 million users. The breach took place in September. The hackers exploited a vulnerability in the code of the feature known as ‘View As’, which gave them access to the profiles and log-in details. 

Google also revealed that a software glitch on Google+ gave outside developers potential access to users’ private data between 2015 and March 2018. The company patched the bug in March 2018, but did not disclose it for reputational reasons. The company also announced it is shutting down Google+ for consumers. 

In a statement submitted to Australia’s parliament on the proposed Access and Assistance Bill 2018, Apple called for stronger encryption, and expressed concern that the bill favours the government’s interpretation of the legal terms and technical facts.

E-commerce and Internet economy

increasing relevance

Canada, Mexico, and the USA reached a deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The new US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) includes chapters on digital trade and data, and controversial provisions such as a ban on restrictions of data transfers across borders.

Debates on taxing the Internet economy picked up, as the EU said it will roll out an EU-wide tax ‘within 60 days’, while Britain went ahead with unveiling a new tax for tech giants.

The competitiveness landscape is being radically altered by the impact of the fourth industrial revolutionand digital technology, theWorld Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2018 concluded. Global economic health can be positively impacted by a return to greater openness and integration; yet, there is a need for new policies to improve conditions of those adversely affected by globalisation.

Digital rights

increasing relevance

Apple CEO Tim Cook praised the EU’s data protection rules and called for a similar development in the USA. Speaking during the annual data protection commissioners’ meeting in Brussels, he also warned against the threat of ‘data industrial complex’.

Facebook was fined €565,000 (the maximum fine allowed) by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for its involvement in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The ICO said that Facebook allowed third party applications to access users’ data without their consent. 

The social media network also removed 559 pages and 251 accounts of several alternative media pages, arguing that the accounts had engaged in ‘inauthentic behaviour’.

Jurisdiction and legal issues

increasing relevance

The EU-US Privacy Shield underwent its second legal review, amid concerns over its unsound legal foundation, and the lack of compliance by US companies. The Commission will report on the review’s conclusions by the end of the year.

Representatives of online platforms, social networks, and the advertising industry presented roadmaps to implement the EU Commission’s Code of Practice on Online Disinformation. The roadmaps plan concrete action and best practices to tackle disinformation and the spread of fake news. 


same relevance

ICANN rolled out the new cryptographic key that protects the Domain Name System (DNS). The change is essential to the Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) protocol which secures the Internet's foundational servers.

US President Trump signed a presidential memorandum instructing the Commerce Department to develop a national 5G spectrum strategy. The strategy is expected by July 2019.

Net neutrality

same relevance

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) sued California and blocked its new net neutrality law from entering into force. The DOJ argued that the new legislation, which bans numerous free-data plans that exempt consumers from data limits when streaming videos and music, is illegal and harms consumers.

New technologies (IoT, AI, etc.)

increasing relevance

Data protection authorities from over 15 countries adopted a Declaration on Ethics and Data Protection in Artificial Intelligence during their annual meeting in Brussels. It lists principles that should guide the design, development, and use of AI, including fairness; continued attention, vigilance, and accountability for the potential effects of AI systems; transparency and intelligibility; responsibility and the application of privacy by default and privacy by design approaches; empowerment of individuals; and reducing and mitigating biases and discriminations.

The UK’s new Code of Practice for Consumer IoT Security provides guidelines on how businesses and organisations involved in developing, manufacturing, and retailing products can achieve a ‘secure by design’ approach.

Discussions on the use of blockchain for voting picked up ahead of the US mid-term elections in the USA.

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.

World Trade Organization (WTO) Public Forum 2018

The 2018 edition of the WTO Public Forum, on 2-4 October, focused on Trade 2030, and addressed the impact of technologies on the trading system, while providing a glance into the future. The topics of discussion ‒ economic growth, creation of jobs, and sustainable development ‒ tried to answer the cross-cutting question across many sessions: Is today’s global trading system equipped to face the changing environment in which we live? 

The inequality between those benefiting from technology-enabled trade and those lagging behind was the backdrop for discussions on how to narrow the divide, and utilise trade instruments in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Discussions also focused on data flows, the need to create more jobs to counter automation-related issues, and the evolution of  artificial intelligence (AI), online platforms, and big data analytics on services for trade. The forum addressed the harmonisation of regulatory frameworks with regard to cybersecurity, privacy, and data governance, while stressing that investment, regulation, and industrial policy will need to be smartly combined to promote development and face the challenges to come.

The GIP reported on digital policy-related sessions from the WTO Public Forum. Read our session reports, and download our final report from the forum.   

#Cybermediation: What role for blockchain technology and natural language processing AI?

The event, delivered in situ and online on 5 October,, hosted by the GIP as part of the #Cybermediation Initiative, focused on the role of blockchain and AI in supporting mediation activities. Technology will not replace human intelligence and ingenuity, but will provide pragmatic approaches. 

Speaking on AI, Dr Katharina Höne argued that as a ‘study of systems that can make intelligent decisions’, AI can complement diplomacy and mediation by saving resources and time, generating new insights, supporting the work of practitioners, and, ultimately, contributing to better conflict resolution. When it comes to blockchain, Mr Dejan Dincic explained that despite the technology being around for a number of years, there are yet no large-scale applications. Using a hypothetical scenario in which blockchain could be used to monitor and implement agreements, Dincic explained that blockchain could play an important role because of its objective, neutral, transparent, and decentralised nature. 

Read a more in-depth summary of the discussions and view our recording of the event

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and international data flows

The event, on 10 October, hosted by the European Union Delegation to the UN in Geneva and the Permanent Mission of Austria in Geneva, in co-operation with the GIP, discussed the EU’s GDPR which entered into effect on 25 May 2018. Panellists described it as an important achievement for the protection of EU citizens’ personal data, and in the search for balance between data protection and the legitimate interests of business operators. They discussed the increasing convergence of data protection norms at international level, and the impact on international data flows from the perspectives of both citizens and businesses.

UNCTAD World Investment Forum 2018

Internet-based technologies have changed the way goods and services are produced and consumed. The digital economy has also created a shift in global investments.

The annual forum organised by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), on 22–26 October, addressed the challenges in mobilising investment towards the development of the digital economy, and the innovative practices and policies that help facilitate such investment. During the discussions, investment guides (or i-guides, which provide up-to-date information for investors), were lauded as a helpful tool. 

Some sessions also underlined the role of blockchain as a means of development-oriented investment which can help improve access to finance, supply chain management, digital identities, and public registries, especially for industries linked heavily to the SDGs, such as agriculture, healthcare, and transportation. Read our reports from digital policy-related sessions during the forum.

Issue no. 35 of the Digital Watch newsletter, published on 5 November 2018, by the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) and DiploFoundation | Contributors: Cedric Amon, Stephanie Borg Psaila (Editor), Dylan Farrell, Andrijana Gavrilović, Stefania Grottola, Arvin Kamberi, Clement Perardnaud, Nataša Perućica, Vladimir Radunović | Design by Viktor Mijatović, layout by Aleksandar Nedeljkov, Diplo’s CreativeLab