Auriane van der Vaeren
August 7, 2023 | Report-backs
For many, the Internet is a place of daily wanderings. The Internet of today is no longer limited to computers, and our societies are steadily walking down the smart path, progressively expanding the world of things to the world of the Internet. The Internet-of-Things goes from smart phones, to smart TVs, to smart homes. But the smartening process in fact does not stop to 'things'. Indeed, seeking to secure a welfare state in a digital world, governments equally walk down the smart path by adopting the concepts of smart cities and smart governments. It is as such that contemporary governments contribute to the rise in available digital applications provided by an array of Internet service providers. Thus, encouraged by technology companies, states that seek to safeguard an international technological avant-garde position causes these states to continuously and incrementally (re)position the digital as an indispensability for all aspects of our social lives. States and businesses thus have a constructively interfering relation; pursuing the dream of an ever-smartening world allows states to have an ever-more pervasive government power and allows companies to create ever-more business opportunities, thereby also setting those companies in a historical position for they have access to tremendous amounts of user-generated data (e.g., AirAsia, Facebook, foodpanda, Line, WeChat, YouTube). Access to user-generated data is not only about better evidence-based governmental decision-making or about more business opportunities and data brokering activities. Access to user-generated data is importantly also about the power of curating content online—about the power of curating its distribution, monitoring its consumption, and making behavioural recommendations.
The reason underlying the upscaling interest of states to regulate (and govern) the digital space therefore becomes all the more apparent—an interest that is not foreign to the United Nations who launched the Global Digital Compact project to “outline shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all”. In this frame, the UNESCO launched in September 2022 its programme Internet for Trust: Towards Guidelines for Regulating Digital Platforms. The key endpoint of this programme is to develop global guidelines for regulating digital platforms; to develop a set of global standards that states would use on which to model their own regulations administering digital platforms. The UNESCO guidelines are currently in their finalisation phase.
Irrespective of who drafts guidelines, they always come with a set of presuppositions that do not reflect the reality of certain contexts. But it is the responsibility of the drafter to hear what presuppositions lead the guidelines to cause more harm than good in certain contexts—a responsibility that is particularly true for the pretension at hand being the development of global guidelines.
Concerns were voiced during a panel at the Digital Rights Asia-Pacific 2023 (DRAPAC23) Assembly, held in Chiang Mai (Thailand) on May 22-26, 2566 (May 22-26, 2023), also attended by a UNESCO representative. The DRAPAC23 Assembly is the first of its kind in the region. And for a region that abounds with countries that have long histories of speech repression, the voices that unanimously expressed concern over the detrimental effects of the guidelines in the region were left once more unheard. Regional governments are known for abusing international law and international policy guidelines to further their interests and to legitimate their actions.
Auriane van der Vaeren is Assistant Editor of Backchannels and currently an independent researcher located in Bangkok (Thailand) who looks into the incidence of technology and policy on the information society.