Digital Watch newsletter - Issue 44 - October 2019

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Digital policy developments in October

With so many developments taking place every week, the policy environment is chock-full of new initiatives, evolving regulatory frameworks, new court cases and judgments, and a rich geo-political environment.

Through the Digital Watch observatory, we decode, contextualise, and analyse these issues, and present them in digestible formats. The monthly barometer tracks and compares them to reveal new focal trends and to determine the presence of new issues in comparison to the previous month. The following is a summarised version; read more about each one by following the blue icons, or by visiting the Updates section on the observatory.

Global IG architecture

same relevance

The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and extreme poverty has drawn attention to the negative implications of digital technologies on the welfare state. 

Sustainable development

increasing relevance

According to the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI),[link] in low and middle-income countries, ​1GB data costs 4.7%​ of average income, more than double the UN threshold for ​Internet affordability​

ICTs are accelerating sustainable development in small island developing states, but barriers are limiting their impact, says the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). 

A Data for Now initiative has been launched to improve timeliness, coverage, and quality of the sustainable development goals (SDGs).


increasing relevance

The USA, the UK, and Australia have asked Facebook to either drop their encryption plans or allow backdoors for LEAs.

The Netherlands has made public its position on the applicability of international law in cyberspace.

New Zealand and Germany are planning new measures against violent extremism online.

Tax records of over 20 million Russians were exposed online. A data breach affecting Russian Internet Service Provider Beeline has compromised the personal data of 8.7 million customers. UniCredit Italy has announced that the personal data of 3 million clients were affected by a data breach.

The largest child pornographic website operating in the darknet has been taken down.

A ransomware attack has prompted Johannesburg to shut down several municipal systems. A massive cyberattack affected over 2000 websites in Georgia.

Digital rights

increasing relevance

The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion has urged governments and companies to protect vulnerable groups and targets of hate speech.

The Finnish Presidency of the Council of the EU has released the latest version of the draft ePrivacy Regulation.

Facebook has agreed to pay the £500 000 penalty imposed in the UK over the Cambridge Analytica case.

Google has released new privacy tools for its most-used products.

Singapore's law against online falsehoods and manipulation has taken effect.

Twitter has decided to ban political advertising. Facebook CEO’s defence of company’s policy to not fact-check political ads has attracted both support and criticism.

The EU has told Internet companies that the impact of self-regulatory measures against disinformation remains unclear.

Jurisdiction and legal issues

increasing relevance

A new data access agreement between the UK and the USA will allow LEAs to demand access to criminals’ data from tech companies.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ruled that a pre-ticked box is not sufficient for valid consent from users for the storage of cookies.

The CJEU has also ruled that national courts can order Facebook to remove, at global level, ‘identical and, in certain circumstances, equivalent comments previously declared to be illegal’.


same relevance

Net neutrality

decreasing relevance

The Appellate Court for Washington, DC, has ruled that the repeal of the net neutrality rules by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was lawful. But states can impose their own rules.

New technologies (IoT, AI, etc.)

increasing relevance

The incoming European Commission has promised ethical rules on AI in the first 100 days of mandate.

Malta and Russia have launched national AI strategies. A Strategic Action Plan for AI and an AI Coalition have been launched in the Netherlands. Serbia has created a working group to draft an AI strategy.

Five vehicle manufacturers (Honda, Renault, BMW, General Motors, and Ford Motors) have joined forces to pilot a blockchain-based ID and payment process for autonomous vehicles.

California has banned the use of FRT in officers’ body cameras until 2023. New York lawmakers plan to regulate FRT use. The Swedish data protection authority has approved the use of FRT by police.

Policy discussions in Geneva

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 | 8–11 October 2019

The conference discussed the rapidly changing trade environment and how the WTO and other actors can adapt to current and future challenges. Although digitalisation has contributed to the increase in services trade, cross-border data flow, e-commerce, etc., its implications, particularly for developing countries, need to be examined carefully. The conference also focused on the role of new generations, the millenials and Gen-Z, in global trade. Youth entrepreneurs introduced their business models using technology and called for international support to harness innovative businesses run by the youth. Read our reports from the conference.

As the UDRP Turns 20: Looking Back, Looking Ahead | 21 October 2019

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) conference marked the 20th anniversary of the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP), which has been a vital enforcement online tool to address domain name disputes. WIPO Director General Francis Gurry lauded the UDRP’s success as an international solution that has combated online abuse and contributed to building trust in the Internet for global market transactions. The conference discussed potential changes that could be brought to the UDPR as it is scheduled for a formal review by ICANN in 2020. Conference participants agreed that more harm than good could result from potential new changes and alerted that ICANN should not take the future success and stability of the UDRP for granted.

AI from dreams to reality | 31 October 2019

The conference, held at the Geneva School of Engineering, Architecture and Landscape (HEPIA), discussed the current state of AI and its practical applications, the impact of AI on business and society, and the future of AI. AI developments are attracting both excitement and suspicion related to potential risks. Benefits and potential negative implications were addressed during the discussions, which concluded that due to fast developments in AI, existing regulations may be inadequate in striking a balance between the need to reap the benefits, while safeguarding privacy, data protection, and other rights.

Two new digital newsletters launched in Geneva

Les breves du numerique is the University of Geneva’s newsletter dedicated to its digital policy activities. Published by its Digital Transformation Office, the newsletter covers the university’s research and training initiatives, and features news from its partners. Subscribe to the newsletter. The University of Geneva is a partner of the Geneva Internet Platform.

Geneva Brief is a new monthly newsletter published by Think Tank Hub in Geneva. It covers news, publications, and events organised by platforms in Geneva, including the Geneva Internet Platform. Subscribe for the next issue to learn more about innovative projects and events taking place in International Geneva.

Issue 44 of the Digital Watch newsletter, published on 4 November 2019, by the Geneva Internet Platform and DiploFoundation | Contributors: Stephanie Borg Psaila (editor), Dylan Farrell, Andrijana Gavrilovic, Jovan Kurbalija, Marco Lotti, Nagisa Miyachi, Sorina Teleanu | Design: Aleksandar Nedeljkov, Viktor Mijatović, and Mina Mudrić, Diplo’s CreativeLab.