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Commentary

2020/03/06

Big Tech and Global Rules by Yuichi Iwata (Senior Researcher)

Big Tech and Global Rules

Yuichi Iwata (Senior Researcher)

■Big Tech as a weapon to fight the new Coronavirus

 

The role of the Big Tech in disseminating the new coronavirus is attracting attention.

In Japan, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has been transmitting information via YouTube in a timely manner [1], and in China, including Wuhan, information transmission in the early epidemic of January has attracted attention since then.

■Big Tech lobbying

 

Such Big Techs are often taken up in the international issues such as "fake news" and "international taxation" because of their huge size and influence. In particular, 'GAFA' (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon) is being tackled occasionally due to their lobbying.

In this January, CNBC reported on the cost of GAFA lobbying activities in 2019: Significantly lower than in the previous year in 'G', on the other hand 'AFA' increased [2]. In Europe, Euronews also reported on the GAFA lobbying in Brussels [3].

In March 2019, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, proposed that global Internet rules be launched in four areas: [4]

1) Harmful content

2) Election environment that should be held in good faith

3) Privacy and data protection

4) Data portability

 

■Background of lobbying

 

Why did Mark Zuckerberg make such a recommendation? There is a hint in the proposal above.

"I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators. By updating the rules for the Internet, we can preserve what's best about it --- the freedom for people to express themselves and for entrepreneurs to build new things --- while also protecting society from broader harms. "

This might mean that it was difficult to create a global rules or trends if he did not try to propose.

■However, huge fines and settlement orders done

 

Four months later, in July 2019, Facebook faced a massive financial penalty ($ 5 billion) from the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [5]. This is the largest privacy or data security penalty in history.

Actually, in 2012, Facebook was ordered by FTC to set the users' ability to control the privacy of their personal information. There was little improvement in handling, resulting in a large-scale leak of personal information to third parties.

Moreover, new additional settlement orders from the FTC have imposed to Facebook, such as 'Establishment of an independent privacy committee', 'To designate independent compliance officers', and 'Quarterly and annual certification to FTC, with potential criminal penalty for violations if any false'. At the same time, specific and detailed prohibition requirements on Facebook's services and operations were also imposed.

■Still worth the proposal from Facebook, under little international & comprehensive discussion opportunities on digital matters.

 

Looking at this trend alone, some may wonder, "Isn't Facebook just proposing global rules to avoid its possible penalties?" That might be an undeniable assumption, but nonetheless Zuckerberg's recommendations are still worthwhile.

It is clear that there is little international venue where all kind of digital related issues being discussed comprehensively.

In the above proposal, Zuckerberg also stated, "I'm looking forward to discussing them with lawmakers around the world." This means that he could not mention the names of an international institution or a government as a party to discuss the global Internet rules. He hoped to have discussions with "legislators around the world" to make such kind of rules. This is one of the important reasons why Big Techs have to focus on lobbying.

To support the situation above, we can find the report from the United Nations in June 2019, "the age of digital interdependence" [6]. Although it is an excellent report, the current contents are mainly still conceptual based one, as shown in the title of Section 4.2, 'Three possible architectures for global digital cooperation'.

 

■Global rules on Big Techs should be based on comprehensive understandings of the latest technologies

 

In the above-mentioned FTC response, establishing effective rules with the cooperation of experts, including technology, is apparently the key factor to make the necessary rules for global Big Techs.

Based on Zuckerberg's recommendations, Rand Research Institute, a U.S. think tank, has pointed out the three needed Internet global rules from a cybersecurity perspective [7]: 'Security-By-Design', 'Net Worthiness: Assurance of the value of the entire Internet system for information protection', and 'Update internet business models'.

As a matter of fact, Japan is also leading the world to try to build such kind of global rules from the technical perspectives, led by the Strategic Innovation Promotion program (SIP) of the Cabinet Office [8].

The creation of global digital rules, based on a comprehensive understanding and maturation of the latest technologies, has just begun, with Japan's so much potential and possible roles.

*Japanese original version of the commentary, please visit: (http://www.iips.org/research/2020/02/17141941.html)

 

[1]Please see the MHLW sitehttps://www.mhlw.go.jp/stf/seisakunitsuite/bunya/newpage_00032.html

Checked on 4th March, 2020

[2]According to CNBChttps://www.cnbc.com/2020/01/22/how-much-google-facebook-amazon-and-apple-spent-on-lobbying-in-2019.html?&qsearchterm=lobbyingChecked on 4th March, 2020

[3] According to Euronewshttps://www.euronews.com/2020/01/14/tech-giants-are-serious-about-lobbying-in-brusselsChecked on 4th March, 2020

[4] According to Washington Posthttps://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/mark-zuckerberg-the-internet-needs-new-rules-lets-start-in-these-four-areas/2019/03/29/9e6f0504-521a-11e9-a3f7-78b7525a8d5f_story.htmlChecked on 4th March, 2020

[5] According to FTChttps://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2019/07/ftc-imposes-5-billion-penalty-sweeping-new-privacy-restrictions, https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/blogs/business-blog/2019/07/ftcs-5-billion-facebook-settlement-record-breaking-historyChecked on 4th March, 2020

[6]Please find the detail at UN site (https://www.un.org/en/pdfs/DigitalCooperation-report-for%20web.pdf)  Checked on 4th March, 2020

[7]Please find the detail at Rand Corporation site (https://www.rand.org/blog/2019/05/three-new-rules-worth-considering-for-the-internet.htmlChecked on 4th March, 2020

[8]Please find the detail at the following sitehttps://www.nedo.go.jp/english/ZZpage_100140.htmlChecked on 4th March, 2020.

The discussion detail at NPI with the project leader Dr. Prof. Atsuhiro Goto can be found at the following NPI site (only in Japanese) (http://www.iips.org/publications/2020/02/10100324.html)

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