A new approach is needed to make digital data flow beneficial to all – the global issue

This will help maximize development gains and ensure that they are fairly distributed, the agency is launching its Digital Economy Report 2021.

A new approach should be able to exchange information globally, develop global digital “public products”, increase trust and reduce uncertainty in the digital economy.

The report emphasizes that the new global system will certainly help avoid further fragmentation of the Internet, narrowing the policy challenges arising from the dominant position of digital platforms and existing inequalities.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in the foreword to the report, “It is more important than ever to embark on a new path for digital and data governance.”

“The current fragmented data landscape … could create more room for significant damage related to privacy breaches, cyber attacks and other risks,” he said.

The new regime

Digital data plays an increasingly important role as an economic and strategic resource, a strong trend by the Covid-1 pandemic epidemic, the report said.

For example, sharing global health data is “critically important” because it could help countries fight disease outbreaks, and create effective vaccines for research purposes: “The issue of digital governance can no longer be postponed,” said UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebecca Greenspan.

“The Global Data Economy calls for a shift away from the silo approach to a more holistic, integrated global approach,” added Isabel Durant, UNCATAD’s Deputy Secretary General.

New data body

UNCTAD is proposing the creation of a new United Nations Coordinating Body, focusing on the evaluation and development of global digital and data governance.

The organization should try to remedy the under-representation of developing countries and provide adequate policies to ensure digital readiness and capability at various levels, which may indeed be beneficial.

Different approaches

The report notes that there are now vastly different approaches to data governance, with three major players – the United States, China and the European Union (EU).

In sum, the US approach focuses on data control by the private sector, the Chinese model emphasizes data control by the government, while the EU favors data control by individuals, based on fundamental rights and values.

“The absence of a global data governance framework undermines countries’ ability to reap the benefits of the digital economy,” said Shamika N. Siriman, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics. “This undermines people’s ability to protect privacy and address law enforcement and national security concerns from both the private sector and public data.”

The new approach will allow countries to better use data for the benefit of the public, to agree on rights and policies, to develop standards and to increase international cooperation.

The report further states that the regulation of cross-border information flows is stagnant due to differences of opinion and position in their control.

The proposed new global data governance approach could contribute to the creation of middle ground solutions, noting that existing regional and international regulatory structures are very limited or geographically limited.

Data sharing

The report warns that a data-driven divide is emerging, with many developing countries becoming the only raw data providers on the global digital platform to pay for the digital intelligence generated from their data.

Only 20 percent of people in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) use the Internet, and when they do, it’s usually associated with relatively low download speeds and relatively high price tags.

It further noted that the average speed of mobile broadband is almost three times higher in developed countries than in LDCs. And while 8 out of 10 Internet users shop online in several developed countries, only one in 10 does so in many LDCs.

The United States, China dominates

The report says the United States and China are leading the way in data collection. They account for 50 percent of the world’s hyper-scale data centers, the world’s highest 5G adoption rate, 70 percent of the world’s top artificial intelligence (AI) researchers and 94 percent of all funding for AI startups.

The two countries accounted for about 50 percent of the market capitalization of the world’s largest digital platform, and their profits and market capitalization increased significantly during the epidemic.

Corporate growth

The report warns that it has become increasingly difficult to consider the rules of frontier information flow without considering the governance of digital corporations.

These platforms continue to expand their own data ecosystems and increasingly control all stages of the global data value chain.

The largest digital platforms Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet (Google), Facebook, Tencent and Alibaba are increasingly investing in all parts of the global data value chain, the report said.

For example, Amazon has invested nearly ১০ 10 billion in satellite broadband, while Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft were the top earners of AI startups between 2016 and 2020.

The four major platforms (Alibaba, Amazon, Google and Microsoft) accounted for 67 percent of global cloud infrastructure service revenue in the last quarter of 2020.

The results of the report will be discussed online during the 15th Quartet Conference of UNCTAD online from 3 to 7 October.

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