Category Archives: Global Trends

D1g1tal Stateh00d: Silicon Valley’s Obligations to Users

By Misha Tseitlin

One of the key turning points in ancient history was the Phoenician invention of currency: a trading empire made up of colonies dotting the Mediterranean Coast, they were the first that managed to commercialise the trade of goods and services. Civilisations long after continue to use this model, valuing everything from silver to copper to aluminium as a currency to facilitation international flows. Today, we are faced with a phenomenon as novel as the invention of initial currency—the commercialisation of data and its transformation into a new form of “currency.”

Social media networks have transformed the way we interact with the world around us. However, their unique decentralised and international model poses challenges to regulation, a growing necessity given the dangers of uncontrolled monopoly, something Americans have discovered over the past year. While the domestic conversation is still trying to move past what Facebook is, I contend that to allow this technology to continue developing, we need to treat data as a human right, imposing an international court system to regulate only the data portion of these internet companies.

Now at this point, I’m sure everyone from small government conservatives to staunch internationalists has concerns. However, it is imperative that such a system be international for a variety of reasons. Why should a Briton have a “right to be forgotten” while Americans struggle to even secure access to net neutrality? The degree of freedoms individuals should have should not depend on their location, especially given the international nature of these platforms: a Facebook user in Bulgaria interacts with the platform as similarly as one in Australia, and so inequities ought to be addressed on an international scale.

The clear question is one of sovereignty—why can’t countries decide what’s best for their citizens? After all, up to now platforms like Facebook have been able to comply with regulations while internally choosing when to refuse compliance with particularly onerous demands from countries like Russia and Turkey. Such thinking, however, is dismissive of the change such developments bring to our economy. Technology and the spread of data is uniquely dispersed. The engineer designing the platform, customer support personnel processing complaints, server for data storage, and end user might be distributed over multiple countries. Which regulations should the platform comply with? An international solution allows for diffuse access to information without introducing mountains of legal hurdles.

More importantly, an international solution would protect both the business model of such companies by avoiding a precedent for unilateral enforcement. Google cannot be expected to comply with different legal standards in various nations and still maintaining profits that enable it to continue functioning. That’s why industry leaders like Mark Zuckerberg have already called for a solution. Ultimately, business struggles in a world of uncertainty—the status quo with vaguely defined statues on state-technology interaction, cyberwarfare, and informational acquisition makes operating difficult for these corporations.

The main alternative to solve these same problems is a national court system. Though a unilateral court in the US might do wonders for Americans, there are two main problems. First, countries can justify a unilateral imposition of demands on these platforms and use them to monitor their citizens, much like Russia already does with VK and Odnoklasniki. Second, individual country actions might determine the shape of a global platform. After all, why would Facebook have 190 different versions of its platform, when it could change its practices across the board after a particularly salient court case.

Both of these have already manifested—the former with the shutdown of Google Dragonfly after a 5-month ordeal surrounding the company’s acquiescence to Chinese Communist Party demands for access to data and control over the platform. However, had it not been for unusual government pressure in the US, the project would have gone through; certainly, this doesn’t exclude the opportunity for similar future projects by Google and others. On the other hand, European regulators have emerged as the primary protectors of privacy, establishing the General Data Protection Regulation, going after first Google and later Amazon for antitrust violations while heavily scrutinising deals like Apple’s Shazam acquisition, and even sorting through tax evasion like Apple’s dealings in Ireland. Nonetheless, such a system that requires deference to some national (or supranational depending on your views on the EU) political system that has its own imperfect incentives is obviously flawed. We’re happy when Europe keeps tech companies accountable, but when its copyright protections, specifically the publicised Articles 11 and 13 that are accused of “banning memes”, seem overzealous, there are few options because of previous international ambivalence and especially the US FTC’s recent laissez-faire attitude. And should Europe ever go the route of the US and loosen the reigns, all current protections would disappear along with the checks they provide.

In comparison to other options then, such an international legal solution is particularly salient. It presents a significant improvement over the current system where an uneducated legislature toothlessly investigates a monopolistic platform that controls the entirety of their user’s experience, from security to content. Additionally, it avoids domestic political pressures: an independent judiciary would first move slowly, as international organisations tend to do, but would have the independence to make decisions irrespective of shifting political tides, as properly-constructed judiciaries do.

Ultimately, something needs to change. Tech companies right now function as monopolies exempt from regulation—their effects are simply too diffuse. The industry has become self-regulating, meaning large profit-driven companies with shareholder obligations are responsible for safeguarding our data. Some like Denmark have taken action, launching “tech ambassadorships,” recognising that individual companies are more important than some small countries. However, these actions are too few and too insufficient to make the necessary impact. Silicon Valley got to where it is by thinking big. It’s time for D.C. and the Hague to catch up.

The Dangers of Anti-Globalism

By Ben Gelman ‘22

“Around the world, responsible nations must defend against threats to sovereignty not just from global governance, but also from other, new forms of coercion and domination… That is why America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control, and domination” said President Trump in September at the United Nations’ 73rd annual General Assembly. This statement is emblematic of a rising discontent with so-called “globalism,” an ideology defined by a willingness to conduct foreign policy through coordination with other nations, and one associated with international systems of governance like the United Nations and the Paris Climate Accord. “Globalist” has become a dirty word, used to describe those who purportedly put the interests of outsiders above those of their fellow citizens and their country, turning the phrase into a smear against politicians who embrace international participation. This negative attitude towards globalism represents a massive difficulty: current problems such as worldwide climate change, or growing global refugee crises require coordination between states around the world to be properly addressed.

Examples of increasingly popular anti-globalist politicians and policies abound. The recently elected president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has criticized the Paris Climate Accord, even pledging to withdraw from the agreement before reversing his position. President Trump has continued to enact policies consistent with the skepticism he expressed for international institutions during his campaign, such as withdrawing from the Iran Deal, the Paris Climate Accord, and the United Nations Human Rights Council. British voters too delivered a strong anti-globalist message in 2016 when they decided to leave the European Union, and voters in other nations voiced similar anti-globalist sentiments, evident through the election of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and the popularity of Marie Le Pen in France.

This anti-globalist sentiment has arrived at an exceptionally unfitting time. While the need for global collaboration is nothing new, crises levels surrounding a variety of global issues increasingly require mutual efforts between nations. These efforts cannot be simply bilateral, as the issues at hand such as climate change and refugee crises affect and are affected by a multitude of different nations in continents around the globe.

To focus on just one, a prejudice against globalism would leave the world even more vulnerable to climate change. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we only have about 12 years until global warming surpasses 1.5 degrees Celsius, at which point the effects such as rising sea levels, droughts, and mass extinctions could become catastrophic. The impacts of climate change have already been apparent through the drought in Cape Town, and in the increasing number and severity of hurricanes.

Agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord are humanity’s best hope at avoiding disaster, as the only feasible way to limit global warming’s negative effects would be for governments to coordinate measures such as carbon taxes, prioritization of renewable energy, and limiting deforestation. To leave countries alone to address climate change individually would be immensely ineffective and likely to fail, as without guarantees of a worldwide effort no nation will be incentivised to incur the costs necessary to combat climate change. Such an effort would require placing self-imposed limits on fossil fuel based industries and job opportunities in order to prevent the negative environmental impacts of carbon emissions. No country would willingly do so without guarantees from the international community that they will not be undercut in the global economy by other countries who refuse to abide by emissions limits. Therefore, any effective system to fight climate change requires a robust set of enforceable rules that ensure each nations’ cooperation. Of course, there is always the risk of free-riders slipping through the cracks of regulations, but this is an externality that we must accept in order to have any reasonable chance at preventing future climate disasters. Additionally, any individual effort by any one nation to limit their own emissions, no matter how genuine, does not make much of an impact on Earth’s global temperature unless this behavior is copied by the rest of the international community.

The U.S withdrawal from the Paris agreement and President Bolsenaro’s threat to do so are therefore severely misguided. Donald Trump outright denied his own government’s dire report on climate change’s  potential harms to the United States, saying “I don’t believe it.” President-Elect Bolsonaro recently pulled Brazil out of a successful bid to host the next international climate summit, a symbolic gesture that sent a message of non-cooperation and skepticism of climate science to nations hoping to include Brazil in a multilateral solution. Mr. Bolsonaro even recently threatened to strip his own government’s environmental agencies of their authority to impose, in his words, “fines all over the place.” In his book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, the historian Yuval Noah Harari commented on this phenomenon of right-wing nationalist leaders being hostile to any sort of remedy to climate change by stating that “since there is no national answer to the problem of global warming, some nationalist politicians prefer to believe the problem does not exist” (121).

Climate change may be the single most dangerous threat the world faces today, and those running for office must treat it as such and begin to propose the appropriate solutions. The case must be made by more sensible candidates in elections across the globe for engaging with the outside world as a means of defending against things such as rising sea levels and droughts that endanger citizens of all nations.Though dire, climate change is only one example where nuanced multilateralism is badly-needed in contemporary geopolitics; there exists a historically unprecedented refugee crisc zones in places like Syria and Yemen to name a few others. This being the case, it is clear that some of the world’s most severe problems require a new wave of pro-globalist diplomats and politicians that understand the virtues of globalism as a tool for improvement.