Monday, May 10, 2021

Nations Need Big Tech Ambassadors

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We live in two worlds: we are citizens of countries but also visitors of ” net statementsMassive tech companies wielding global powers. Although we are both digital and physical creatures, we do a really good job of knowing how to navigate both spaces. We follow the laws based on where we physically park and we follow the rules of the network state based on the sites and applications we connect to.

Yet this duality seems to confuse governments. They may recognize that Big Tech has powers similar to a country, but they don’t seem to understand how to manage their very unnational structures. As a result, most countries still struggle when it comes to controlling net states, throwing old world weapons like fines and regulations into an indifferent, engulfing aether.

Fortunately, at least a handful of countries are committed to finding a better approach to Big Tech. In 2017, Denmark made history by appointing Casper cluster, a long-time diplomat, to become the world’s first technology ambassador. When I asked him shortly after his appointment what he thought of how governments should deal with states on the net, he said, “The freight train is coming … so it’s not. not the IT office that has to deal with the technology; security policy. Too few countries understand this. “

At the time, Denmark seemed to be the only country to view Big Tech as a geopolitical force to be reckoned with. However, in 2021 at least a dozen more countries followed Denmark’s lead. It’s a promising start, but it’s not enough. Every country needs tech diplomats – and fast. While government officials lag behind the private sector, even in basic digital literacy, Big Tech continues to forge its way into the future, amassing a world power with virtually unchecked. As they do, tech users float between platforms largely unprotected, our data sucked, repackaged, and sold without our notice. But tech diplomats could offer governments a series of new tactics to tackle this. From traditional strategies such as formal recognition of allies and adversaries to more modern approaches such as public-private partnerships, ambassadors with technical know-how could help nations navigate this foreign territory more nimbly.

Currently, most governments do not appear to have an effective plan to protect citizens on digital platforms. Much of their efforts to date have been brainstorming, half-hearted fines, or lukewarm regulation – none of which has led to significant changes on the platforms. Public hearings make government officials look angry and out of touch, like parents berating out teenagers (see, for example, when Florida MP Gus Bilirakis interviewed Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg content posted on YouTube– which, of course, belongs to Google and not Facebook). Regulations take so long to be enacted that the tech industry often innovates quickly to get around them before they come into effect. For example, just before the entry into force of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Facebook has moved 1.5 billion of its users outside EU data centers to bypass new privacy laws. Even substantial fines have proven ineffective: Billion dollar fines like the one Google incurred in 2019 ends up being little more than irritants when a business can get it back in as little as two weeks.

Regulation also fails because tech companies are constantly updating the way they describe who they are and how they operate. For example, when France passed a bill in 2015 requiring open data from transport companies, ridesharing companies used their terms of service to prove that they were not technically “transport companiesBut rather twinning companies. And since there was no way of knowing when the language of the companies’ terms of service was updated, the companies got away with it. French tech ambassador Henri Verdier, a career technologist before his diplomatic appointment, brought his tech industry experience to this problem by developing an open source tool, Open conditions archive, which allows anyone to see what specific wording has been changed in the terms of service of over 100 different companies. If governments are to have a chance of leveling the playing field with Big Tech, they will need technically competent people like Verdier in their ranks.

Of course, governments will have their work cut out for their own bureaucracies to come around to the idea. As Rana Sarkar, Canada’s Technical Consul General, tells me, “This idea that you are a diplomat who is not geographically located and focused … is a challenge for foreign ministries. And the antibodies of foreign ministries against things that don’t seem to fall into those categories are powerful. But the need for tech diplomats outweighs the government’s potential resistance to them. When it comes to net government commitment, most countries currently have no carrots, only sticks. Every country needs tech-savvy officials who can both understand the cultural norms of the digital age and the full range of diplomatic tactics at their disposal. Austrian technology ambassador Martin Rauchbauer explains it this way: “We see ourselves … as a translator between different worlds. And given this period of societal digital transformation, I think diplomacy is what it takes. “

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