IGF Daily Summary for
Wednesday, 30 November 2022
If you are reading this daily summary while taking your morning coffee – in Ethiopia (known for its coffee production tradition) or anywhere else in the world – you might also explore the history of coffee.
Legend says that Kaldi, a goat herder from Ethiopia, discovered coffee’s unique effects when he saw that his goats became very active after eating coffee beans. He reported it to the local monastery, whose priests stay awake for long hours of evening prayers after drinking coffee. Coffee rituals spread worldwide.
Over 800 million African citizens still lack access to the internet, despite the commitment undertaken by world leaders to ‘significantly increase access to ICT and strive to provide universal and affordable access to internet in LDCs by 2020’, and despite the fact that the internet is widely recognised as an enabler of human rights.
Africa’s challenges with internet connectivity are not new. The exorbitant cost of owning a mobile phone and maintaining an internet connection are still prohibitive for many households. Incentives are still too few for the private sector to invest in connecting rural communities. Patchy and erratic electricity supplies mean that large numbers of users cannot connect to the internet for indeterminable lengths of time.
The session dedicated to connectivity and digital rights – a view from the Global South, however, shone a bright light on the increasing number of efforts by African actors determined to make a real difference. As one African parliamentarian said, ‘It is only us who can fix our nation… We will be the driver to get us where we need to be … a second submarine cable, a data centre…’.
The path to internet inclusion is through: developing content in local languages; adopting inclusive measures that embrace women and girls in ICT; teaching users about rights and responsibilities in language they can understand.
Alternative ways of being connected
Who ensures that people are connected in case of a disaster? Is this only the responsibility of the government? Such questions were raised during the session on ‘Connectivity at the critical time: During and after crises’. It was argued that civil society and the private sector should step in and form partnerships with governments. Australia’s Stand Program, a disaster satellite service funded by the government to strengthen telecommunications, is a good example. Such combined efforts are needed, especially in Africa, to expand its terrestrial and extra-terrestrial internet coverage, to address emergency alerts and communications.
There were also calls to rely on community networks as a backup for essential infrastructure.
One strategy to promote meaningful access to telecommunications services, as outlined in the session on the ‘Lessons learned from capacity building in the Global South’ is the national schools of community networks. Launched in 2020, with support from the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) the schools will offer a capacity-building foundation in different countries, such as Brazil, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Indonesia, to enable them to deploy and maintain community networks.
Communities and citizens also need training on how and to what extent resources can be used in a time of disaster. According to an assessment conducted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), only 29% of countries have such a national emergency communication plan in place, and most of them are high-income countries. The government and people in each country should work together to plan how to communicate in case of an emergency.
From interplanetary networks to the metaverse
Digital technology is moving to outer space. And outer space is now on the IGF agenda, as discussed during two sessions: the future of interplanetary networks and the global governance of LEO satellite broadband.
An interplanetary network is technically ready to be applied into outer space, following testing in the low-latency environment of planet Earth. As technology is deployed via a growing number of satellite programmes, there is an increasing number of security and regulatory issues.
The launch of LEO satellite constellations by companies like Amazon, SpaceX, Telesat, and OneWeb helps people in remote and rural places get online. But it also opens new governance and regulatory issues in areas such as broadband provision, spectrum allocation, and the applicability of space law.
Because the use of satellites necessitates national licensing, but service providers operate across national borders, achieving some level of harmonisation among applicable regulations is an additional challenge.
The metaverse was the focus of two sessions: Misty metaverse: blurring letter of the law and Joint efforts to build a responsible & sustainable metaverse. Both sessions were framed around the typical discourse that accompanies new technologies: outlining the benefits and risks of the metaverse. But there was also something new: a call for a Web 2.5 approach to building the metaverse, which would have centralised governance and decentralised operations. This was proposed as a solution to the immature state of metaverse technology.
Despite the media hype surrounding Web 3.0 earlier this year, it is interesting to note that it was not present in the IGF debate as much as one might have expected. So far, Web 3.0 was mentioned only once. A possible reason for this ‘de-hype’ is a loss of enthusiasm for blockchain – the underlying technology behind Web 3.0 – due to the Bitcoin crisis.
AI remained on the agenda during the IGF’s second day. During the session on Afro-feminist AI governance; challenges and lessons panelists made parallel between gender inequality and Africa and digitaliation around issues of: lack of data, access to digital devices, digital illiteracy, and inequalities in the data economy.
During the session on pathways to equitable and safe development of artificial general intelligence (AGI) participants argued that intelligent devices that collect data that may feed a future AGI are mostly controlled by Global North, even when they are used in the Global South. In addition, the profit-driven approach of tech companies will exclude the interests of marginalised communities that are based in developing countries. Although the problem of AI-driven divide won’t be easily solved, participants argued that user-centered and public-driven AI development could help.
On the second day, internet fragmentation continued to top the IGF agenda as the theme of a main session and a policy network debate. Internet fragmentation was also addressed during a session on economic sanctions.
Out of many possible angles, there was an emerging consensus that internet fragmentation should be identified by user experience. If users cannot access online services – for instance, because of their geographic location – it means the internet is fragmented.
The reasons for internet fragmentation could be multifold, including:
Technical fragmentation of interoperable standards and protocols. The internet will cease to exist if the connectivity layer with TCP/IP is endangered. In addition, user access to internet services can be fragmented through the use of certificates, especially those dealing with security.
Confusion between decentralisation and fragmentation of the internet.
Human rights violations, as separate from internet fragmentation.
Fighting cybercrime and misuse of the internet, increasingly used as a justification for restricting access to internet services.
The growing use of economic and cyber sanctions in geopolitics. These can impact critical internet resources such as the domain name system and online services that citizens of countries under sanctions need.
Governing data flows
The discussion in the main session on governing data and protecting privacy took a birds-eye view of the state of global data governance, privacy protection legislation, and the main challenges to effective privacy protection in current legal environments. The speakers pointed out several issues that influence data governance and privacy protection:
The global data governance landscape is highly fragmented. Such fragmentation reduces opportunities for collaboration among jurisdictions.
Many developing countries are concerned that they will become major providers of raw data to global platforms while having to rely on foreign knowledge that is produced from that data.
Data protection legislation and free flow of data are not mutually exclusive, rather data protection legislation increases the security of data flows.
Data governance policies should be developed with input from the multistakeholder community who understands not only the abstract legal debates around privacy, but also the real world challenges of implementing effective data privacy solutions.
There is a gap between the data protection and privacy legislation on paper and the implementation of existing rules. Most countries need to strengthen their institutional capacity to enforce data protection laws and accountability.
The question of whether a universal binding treaty on data governance is possible was brought up, with differing opinions.
Taking a more detailed look, the session on data integration for security dealt with technologies using biometric data to combat cross-border crime, migration control, the use of facial recognition in public spaces, and the related infringement of human rights (right to privacy) of individuals.
It was noted that while the new technologies are efficient in combating crime, their effective implementation has to include transparency mechanisms, impact assessments, and privacy guidelines. This approach would contribute to accountability and trust in security technologies, making their use more powerful.
The IGF is seen as a particularly relevant forum for addressing the role and responsibility of such international technology transfers.
As for open-source intelligence (OSINT) tools (databases of publicly available data that intelligence communities use to collate information of value to their work), the main legal challenge is the extent to which non-open source data, such as data purchased from private companies, should form part of OSINT tools. It is ethically questionable, even if legally permitted, whether private companies should give access to their data to intelligence communities and organisations.
The balance between government regulation, human rights, and creating a trusted environment was also discussed in the context of data flows and building common principles on a global level. A multilateral approach was deemed necessary to maintain a trusted free flow of data, resolve jurisdictional conflicts, and adopt common global principles of data protection.
A session about online safety regulations and the need for their harmonisation explored new ways for regulators to approach online safety.
While certain types of online content have a clear designation as illegal across jurisdictions (child sexual abuse content, terrorism, or extremism), there are new types of rapidly-emerging content that are harmful, but not yet designated as such by legislators (self-harm, eating disorders, disinformation, polarisation).
The regulators need flexibility and agility to address the online implications of these harms. Beyond regulation, it is also important to embed safety standards in the design stage of platforms and apps.
Imagine you’re browsing an online store, and you spot something you like. A pop-up urges you to complete your purchase within 2 hours – or the price you’re about to pay will increase. That’s called pressure selling and is classified as an advertising practice that can skew your decision. It’s just one of several techniques that advertisers use to influence consumer behaviour. Techniques that subvert or impair consumer autonomy, decision-making, or choice are known as dark commercial patterns.
Speakers engaged in a dedicated session on dark patterns spoke about the difficulty in determining when advertising techniques cross the threshold of what is ethical and fair, and referred to the work the OECD, the EU, and consumer protection authorities in different countries are undertaking to address these issues.
Regulating dark commercial patterns is even more difficult: The techniques are constantly changing, so the way we defined them a few years ago might already be outdated today. How do we regulate a practice that changes even as we watch? And who’s responsible for the ensuing harm to consumers? Is it the online store that’s using such techniques, is it the developer of the interface – or both?
To tackle the issues and limit consumer harm, enforcement authorities might need to access the algorithms behind the advertising, which is an uphill battle considering that companies look at algorithms as trade secrets. The key could lie in stronger consumer awareness: It won’t stop businesses from using persuasive techniques, but it could help prevent consumers from falling into the trap.
The future of IG: rethinking multistakeholderism and strengthening youth engagement
Born in response to alarming state behaviour online, as well as internet fragmentation challenges, the Declaration for the Future of the Internet outlines basic principles on how nation states should act in relation to the internet.
This Day 2 session focusing entirely on this document noted that the declaration strongly supports multistakeholderism and maintained that multistakeholder approaches are needed to ensure that the internet’s full peace-building and other potential is used. However, some argue that we might need to rethink the multistakeholder model to ensure a proportional representation of both small and underrepresented groups and larger and stronger actors.
During the main session on the dynamic coalition, the perennial question was raised if the IGF should produce more concrete outcomes in the form of policy recommendations. Some argue that such recommendations should be galvainsied through the work of dynamic coalitions. In this way, the IGF can become a policy incubator.
There have also been calls to expand the scope of youth participation in internet governance (IG). For instance, the session ‘Global youth engagement in IG: Successes and opportunities’ addressed the manifold challenges youth encounter, such as limited space for participation in IG decision-making at the national level, gender stereotyping, and the challenges of accessing content in languages other than English.
Decision-makers need to remove these and other barriers and instead build structures that can support youth for long-term engagement in IG.