• Digital Single Market

    Regulating Platforms, again?!

    Rather than following its commitment to embracing non-legislative but self regulatory solutions, the Commission is about to undertake a second attempt in clamping down on platforms. Platforms are recognised for a while now as the prevailing model for th [read more]
    byLenard Koschwitz5 min read
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    Rather than following its commitment to embracing non-legislative but self regulatory solutions, the Commission is about to undertake a second attempt in clamping down on platforms.

    Platforms are recognised for a while now as the prevailing model for the digital economy. Finally entrepreneurs can spend time doing what they do best without having to be part-accountants, salesmen, IT-experts, web-developers or part-whatever. Building a business pre-platform was like digging out your house from snow before you actually could go in. Every day.

    Platforms triggered an explosion of new startups who benefit from lower entry barriers and fractional costs when launching a business. We see new platforms emerging and even platform to platform (P2P) solutions.

    Not only entrepreneurs but also users are becoming very aware of what they are good at and start to focus, in a nonchalant way, on what they do best and chose the most convenient way to buy a ticket or save their documents. As individuals we are becoming more aware of our strengths and skills. This seems like a very logical continuation of the separation of labour. Not everyone has to do everything.

    While startups and entrepreneurs across the planet are still in the buzz of grasping the opportunities they now have to change the world, the conversation policy makers have is taking a different turn.

    ‘Fairness in Platform-to-business relations’ reads the European Commission’s work programme for 2018. Search results reveal that P2B is a term solely used in the political Europe and its notion is imminent, impending and even threatening if we attend to some of the stories around. The motivation seems less like a solid legal concept but more like a feeling; a feeling that something must be wrong. If we do something about fairness we presume that the current situation is unfair.

    The motivation of the proposal limps for several reasons. First of all it highlights how the European Commission has pivoted and adapted their story over the years, changing its position more than once. A wide-ranging consultation in 2015 and 2016 resulted in no justification for sweeping legislation on platforms.

    Part of the reason at the time was that the lawmakers did not manage to define what they were talking about. Considering platforms as matchmakers in multi sided markets, the Commission was not able to find evidence that there are structural problems. On the contrary, benefits of platforms overweight and the Commission committed to embracing non-legislative but self regulatory solutions .[1]

    Rather than following this commitment the Commission undertook a second attempt in clamping down on platforms. This time it follows a “problem based approach”.

    Licenses and copyright protected content would not be sufficiently protected on online platforms, so the lawmakers say. The draft legislation[2] that followed goes by far beyond its declared scope, obliging crowdfunding platforms, blogs, online shops or developer platforms to restrict parts of their content and conclude licenses similar to those of Spotify or Youtube for the rest of it.

    This is by far the only area where “government comes after platforms”. Policy makers are quick in pushing responsibility on platforms about all kinds of controversial content or use or make often unrealistic demands[3].

    All in all, the discussion often seems polarised and naive. It is true that technology can achieve more than eyes and hands, but this mustn’t mean that long established and enshrined principles of power and responsibility have to be shifted to technology. Many of the policy advances seem half-assesses and are sending mixed messages.

    Coming back to platforms. We should ask ourselves if we really want to adopt regulation clamping down on e-commerce like asos, Zalando, HelloFresh, Lieferando, Deliveroo, payment platforms like Adyen, Klarna, Stripe or Transferwise? Platforms as business model brings producers, consumers, partners and owners together in ways that go far beyond what some of our political elites feel uncomfortable with Amazon, Google, Booking, ebay or Apple?

    Is it all new? Part of the accusation is that a handful of platforms, which happen not to be founded or headquartered in Europe, abuse their position, do not provide enough transparency, push unfair contractual arrangements and keep valuable insights from data to themselves.

    If we look back in time or into other sectors like retail supermarkets, we find that such practises are neither new nor necessarily abusive. The question arises: Why does the European Commission now want to intervene and not before. Or did we ever speak about where a “fair” position for products in a supermarket is or if it’s “fair” if Delhaize launches own brands on those products that sell well?

    What’s the logic? It might seem easy and opportunistic to give in to the immediate picture of “big platform abuses power vs small business,” but such behaviour would not make sense in reality. As a platform you don’t only care about but you rely on business users. If there is no trust and users are unhappy with the product they will leave, regardless how big a platform is.

    But let’s be clear, apart from some individual stories the image of platforms as malicious black boxes has never been supported by evidence.

    Missing the point? So why is it that startups launch much faster today than before? Why do we experience a democratisation of entrepreneurship and a “wave of European innovative startups,” as President Juncker put it? For one part it is because we have the technology at our fingertips, i.e. startups as well as their users can easily afford the devices they need to interact on a marketplace.

    Secondly it is because technology allows us to offer products of scale. Once a startup develops a software product or service, the majority of the sales, marketing and subscription service can be automated. So if we give in to one of the assumptions of the European Commission, that business clients cannot negotiate fair contracts with platforms – that actually is for a good reason because obliging them to put a lawyer behind every contract would do nothing less than rendering the entire advantage of technology useless.

    Is it all about B2P? It seems evident that the Commission wants to stick up for businesses that have experienced issues with platforms. If such issues exist and deserve attention, first and foremost by the platform itself. Digital savvy consumers, startup entrepreneurs and pretty much anyone reacts to bad customer service and redress.

    And if choice is limited that this might actually be a case for competition authorities rather than for legislators. The legislator rightfully envisaged this as one of the policy options which seems the most adequate and least invasive for startups in Europe and across the world as they offer the most efficient and speedy solution to problems when they arise. Startups don’t want to wait month or years for regulation and its enforcement to see it unfit for current realities and technologies.

    Picture credits: Shelley Ginger

     

     

     

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  • Digital Single Market

    A glimpse of the digital debate in Brussels

    On November 27th, at the Egmont Palace, a rather extravagant but always elegant venue in the heart of Brussels, the Think Digital Summit took place. The Digital Post could not have missed the opportunity of attending It is the second year the Think Digit [read more]
    byMaria Georgiadou5 min read
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    On November 27th, at the Egmont Palace, a rather extravagant but always elegant venue in the heart of Brussels, the Think Digital Summit took place. The Digital Post could not have missed the opportunity of attending

    It is the second year the Think Digital Summit runs by the initiative of the European Business Summit. This year’s Summit touched upon issues such as data protection and privacy of consumers and citizens, growth of SME’s and Start Ups within the Digital Single Market, and last on critical digital infrastructure for developing a 5G network across Europe. The speakers were MEP’s, EU officials, policy makers, and representatives from the business sector. The Summit was smartly structured into three thematic panels in form of debates mainly polarizing between speakers from public institutions defending EU policies and corporate representatives advocating on business interests. The debate formation was not only vibrant managing to keep the participants interest alive for more than 6 hours but also gave us the opportunity to witness diverse interests and objectives collide or concede depending on the speakers’ background and the topic discussed.

    In his opening keynote speech Giovanni Buttarelli, the European Data Protection Supervisor acknowledged the increasing demand for transparency and the need for all individual voices to be heard and transposed. Building on his statement, he pointed out an ‘‘unfair balance’’ between corporations handling a big amount of data, and on the other hand citizens merely giving away valuable personal data, oblivious of this transaction. Having framed this imbalance he labelled opacity as the biggest threat set to individuals and suggested this threat should be tackled by regulation.

    Data Protection and Privacy of the European Digital Future

    The topic which ignited a rather polemic but nevertheless constructive debate was the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or officially Regulation 2016/679 (Click here) and which monopolized the discussion of the first panel. According to EU officials the GDPR objective is to achieve an equilibrium between the full respect of fundamental human rights and business development, being at the same time an innovation friendly regulation. GDPR comes into force at the end of May 2018, so we will have to wait and see whether it will reach its full potential and purpose. Furthermore, this regulation comes to repeal an older E-Privacy Directive (Directive 95/46/EC), with the intention to achieve full integration and harmonization of implementation across the E.U. Highlighting the value of the innovation friendly design for the business sector, Despina Spanou, Director of DG CNECT, also strongly advocated for the need to empower consumers to have full control of their communication and to be asked to consent or not to sharing their data. ‘‘Consent has to be affirmative, not implicit’’, she asserted.

    Responding to Mrs. Spanou,  Mr. Louette, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Orange, joked ‘‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts’’ which although was a great ice breaker, it also made a clear-cut statement regarding his position towards the GDPR . He expressed his fears on restrictions on data use in businesses, stressing the need to balance regulation so that it does not hinder business activity. The issue of labelling almost everything as ‘‘personal data’’ was also brought up, pointing out the need to define the term more effectively. Furthermore, Mr. Louette argued that using personal data, such as people’s locations, can enable companies analyse the data and produce smarted public services where needed.  Last, he revealed that Orange wants to create a data dashboard for its customers from where they could monitor the cyberspaces they had left traces of their personal data.

    Boosting Growth for SME’s and Start-Ups in the Digital Single Market

    Digital is not a new industry, it is the way all SME’s and Start-ups should operate, says Katarzyna Jakimowicz, Associate Director of the Lisbon Council. The biggest issues SME’s have to tackle are to sell their products internationally, and to expand their limited knowledge of digital advertising tools. In some countries like Bulgaria, online purchases account for below 30 per cent of overall purchases, which discourages companies in these countries to advertise online at all. The major issues raised in this panel were once again regulation harmonization, this time on e-commerce and work mobility, and the business responsibility to create windows of opportunity for smaller businesses to grow. Nevertheless, the most interesting points were raised by Mrs. Jakimowicz on the existing, as she calls it, ‘‘talent and soft skills gap’’ referring to SME’s difficulty to access talent and digital skills domestically making the need for EU regulation on remote work more relevant and urgent than ever. The lack of communication between SME’s and institutions when it comes to funding and support mechanisms was discussed, bringing up that the European Innovation Council (Click here) will give €2,7 billion on SME’s, and in terms of promoting and supporting growth, the EU has initiatives such as The Startup Europe Project (Click here) helping SME’s develop.

    Digital Infrastructure towards Maximum Connectivity

    ‘‘Bad connection is like no connection at all, thus we should aim towards high speed maximum connectivity’’ says Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, MEP for S&D.

    The third and last panel focused on the advent of 5G network and the issues that need to be dealt with along the way. Issues that will arise on setting up a 5G network are building the necessary infrastructure to support the regular function of the network and the urgent need to regulate in order to create a safe environment for investors and in order to protect competition and innovation. Furthermore, it was repeatedly argued that this transition will not just be a transition from 4G, as it happened from 3G to 4G, it is a new technology that would change our lives and apply in a diversity of human activities such as transport and health industries, but unfortunately further elaboration and more tangible examples as to in what ways this network would revolutionize our everyday lives were not given.

    Take Away Messages

    An equilibrium between citizen’s protection and business development and innovation needs to be set, and the DGPR aspires to do so.

    More initiatives need to be launched at EU level in order to boost and support SME’s access to soft digital skills and funding mechanisms.

    Regulation on harmonization of rules on e-commerce and remote working are urgent.

    In achieving a 5G network there are still a lot of issues to be tackled, such as critical infrastructure and regulation on safety to attract investors.

    Overall I found the Summit very interesting and relevant. The structure of the sessions was constructive in terms of content and interaction between the speakers. The topics discussed were all relevant to current digital affairs and analysed sufficiently; I am afraid though with the exception of the 5G topic where more tangible arguments could have been delivered by the speakers. Questions by the participants were welcomed and answered with directness and in a meticulous fashion. Furthermore, the venue was grandiose, some might argue over the top, but still interesting to see, and last the services provided, such as food and drinks were satisfactory, although perhaps wider variety of food would have left participants with  impressions. For now we can only wait for the next Think Digital Summit in December next year and wonder what novelties we are to anticipate on.

    Photo credit: pixabay.com

     

     

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  • Startup Economy

    Filtering Obligations: Don’t torpedo startups in Europe

    How a law to reign in large platforms will end up costing large platforms least of all. Policy making is, by nature, one step behind technology because it tends to focus on (and is lobbied by) today’s companies. When lawmakers, however, by virtue of un [read more]
    byLenard Koschwitz7 min read
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    How a law to reign in large platforms will end up costing large platforms least of all.

    Policy making is, by nature, one step behind technology because it tends to focus on (and is lobbied by) today’s companies. When lawmakers, however, by virtue of universally applicable and EU-wide laws, try to come after a hand full of big players, society and smaller startups suffer. With the Copyright Directive, the EU risks shooting itself in the foot. Worse even, it is launching a torpedo at its own vision of becoming a startup continent. Here is the gist of it:

    The proposal to filter online content fundamentally misses its aim. By targeting a few big video platforms, it will ultimately uplift and fence their market share. The scope of the proposal is flawed. While intending to govern only licensed content, it targets all types of content and all platforms regardless of licenses or copyright.

    Filtering itself is technically ineffective and will cause more damage than good on the internet. Seemingly easy on text through hashing but disproportionately expensive for anything more complex or even impossible. The suggested filtering technology will raise the cost of launching a startup in Europe and drive talent away.

    First-buried-then-leaked evidence suggest it will not solve the problem anyway. For all of us it will result in lower quality, less variety and content online, as the law favours those who delete content.

    Let’s take this in turns. To start, the proposal aims to address a grievance by rightsholders, namely the fact that certain large platforms don’t pay as much as the content industry is wishing for. While it’s one thing whether we want laws in favour of individual industries, this proposal will actually not do anything to abate this discord.

    Ironically, this proposal makes it even more likely that small platforms and innovative startups pick up the tab, as they don’t have the market power and legal teams to go through thousands of licensing agreements. To be clear: Startup founders fully respect creation and its remuneration. But this law is drafted in entire disregard of Europe’s startups and its citizens’ fundamental rights.

    Besides fundamentally missing the target, the proposal is carpet bombing the entire digital world. Regardless of whether one uses licensed content or not, everyone will now have to enact a costly regulatory prescription. Content can range from images over text, audio visual content, objects to code.

    While policy makers probably would have liked the idea of squeezing one online video platform into the business model of another, their proposal made startup founders across Europe worry about their future. Github, for example, is an open source code-sharing platform that helps developers to stay on top of trends.

    It too, would be within the scope of this law. Another example are crowdfunding platforms that, by design, host content uploaded by users. Is this where copyright infringement happens? Again, the scope of this law overreaches its aim and creates more problem than solutions.

    Content industries may be yelling about a problem but it is lawmakers’ duty to find a proportionate solution for everyone in our society. In this case, technology can’t offer what politics wants. Several examples underline this: Shapeways, a 3D printing marketplace, hosts more than 300,000 pieces of copyrightable content per month but processed fewer than 1,000 copyright notices in 2016. Which were based on the description, not products themselves and in most cases unsubstantiated.

    Earlier examples of crowdfunding platforms, code-sharing platforms or e-commerce are no different. Because content recognition does not yet exist in an affordable and efficient way these startups can either break the law or break ties with Europe and move where common sense governs. Anyways, they are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    With audio files, a comparatively easily recognisable content, state of the art fingerprinting techniques resulted in error rates of 1-2%. Sounds acceptable? In comparison, spam filters for emails get dismissed as unsuitable with error rates of 0.1%. These cases illustrate: Filtering is ineffective with some types of content, and non-existent for others.

    Even if filtering were to work properly across all formats, it would price many innovative ideas out of the European market. Studies have underlined this. Unlike an assessment by the European Commission suggested, filtering does not cost 900 Euro per month, but easily between 10.000 and 50.000. If the average initial funding of a startup was 150k, you can ask yourself whether you want to launch that company or just run your idea through a bad filter for three month.

    Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform, hosted 366.622 projects since its inception. In 2015 it received copyright infringement notices targeting a mere 215 projects, only one third of which were valid complaints.

    If article 13 of the proposed copyright directive became reality, the removal of 100 out of over 366.622 projects would easily cost 500.000€ annually. Why? Because some policy makers think a straightforward notice-and-takedown procedure is not enough. What was it again about proportionality in law?

    When filtering is prescribed with complex and expensive rules, companies will be inclined to remove content rather than run the risk of getting sued. And who are platforms do decide if that video or drawing is a copyright infringement or parody, or maybe an entirely new work?

    While so far a well founded notice triggers removal, in future the benefit of the doubt will be with an armada of copyright trolls chasing anyone hosting content. The result will be less variety and content available online. This ranges from creative content of any kind to critical thought Here is a  proposal that will lead to less investment, less startups and less free speech. Right before half of the world’s population will be able to benefit from a free internet, the most developed continent will go partly dark.

    There are a myriad of startups like Kickstarter and Shapeways or Github. And even more young and talented Europeans are planning the next generation of content platforms today.

    The collateral damage of such out-of-touch legislation is not only a shot in the foot of Europe’s ambition to become a startup continent, but also a  contribution to a generation of entrepreneurs seeking success elsewhere. Europe will be stuck with companies that are already big enough to comply or those who never want to be that big.

    Startups are not one single industry but innovate across all sectors. They are the most mobile companies we’ve ever seen and are successful because they approach problems differently. Regulators are still catching up to this reality.

    While there is no simple answer to copyright, building walls will have unintended effects while missing the actual aim. Exempting startups, as suggested before will not crack the nut because startups aren’t SMEs. What then?

    There is a vocal debate ongoing outside mainstream media on twitter, here and here. While the Parliament keeps postponing a decision the time is right to bring these topics further to the top.

     

    Picture Credits: Frankieleon

     

     

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  • Digital Single Market

    Poland’s digital priorities in a data-driven future

    The Digital Post has spoken with Krzysztof Szubert, Polish Secretary of State in charge of Digital Single Market: There should be more clarity and organization in the way different European commissioners are involved in the digital files. The Digital Pos [read more]
    byThe Digital Post5 min read
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    The Digital Post has spoken with Krzysztof Szubert, Polish Secretary of State in charge of Digital Single Market: There should be more clarity and organization in the way different European commissioners are involved in the digital files.

    The Digital Post: You were appointed in march Secretary of State, responsible for international affairs at the Ministry of Digital Affairs in Poland. But you are not a politician.

    Krzysztof Szubert: Indeed, I spent 20 years in business, running different types of ICT companies. So I am more of an expert in the field. Two years ago, I was asked by the government to join the team as strategic advisor to the Minister of Digital Affairs Mrs. Anna Streżynska to help implement a more project-oriented way of working.

    We created a new ministry for digital affairs embarking more people with a business background so as to have a wider expertise within our administration, as well as in management – governance. In March, along with the post of secretary of state, I have also been appointed government plenipotentiary for the coordination of the Digital Single Market Strategy in Poland. In this capacity, I deal with different ministries in order to enable the nationwide implementation of the DSM.

     

    TDP: What are the priorities of your government in Europe in terms of digital policies?

    KS: We have been pushing through a large number of files. In Poland we are basically focused on: infrastructure, eGov, eSkills and Cybersecurity. On EU level it is more like: 5G, platforms, cyber and the most important free flow of (non-personal) data. For instance, together with 13 other countries, Poland urged the Commission to take action on free flow of data which resulted in the recent presentation of the free flow of data initiative.

    We were quick to realise that it was difficult for us to focus on too many technological issues other countries were very active in and advance, such as the Internet of Things or autonomous vehicles. Therefore, we decided to concentrate our efforts on a fewer number of topics the most important of which is data economy.

    Apart from the free flow of data initiative, we have been very active for instance in advocating for more freedom of data exchange in trade agreements. We have been leading the way in calling for the removal of protectionist measures that prevent our businesses from making the most of the opportunities of the data economy.

     

    TDP: What about future actions?

    KS: We are taking a step further. We want to show how important data are for our economy and what their real value in terms of GDP or Euro is. According to a study that our ministry commissioned, data-driven productivity accounts for 40% of total productivity and has a significant impact on GDP per capita.

    Hence the importance of focusing on this field to reap the highest possible economic benefits. The economy in the future will depend more and more on data. In order to seize this opportunity, Europe has to prepare for this transformation. We want to lead the way in this work, but it is always good to remember that digital transformation – we are in front of – is about people, not technology.

     

    TDP: Making the most of data economy is also a priority for the Digital Single Market strategy. Do you think the strategy is delivering? What are the main obstacles you see?

    KS: I see two areas to work on. The first one is about coordination, both on the EU and member states level I believe there should be more clarity and organization in the way different commissioners are involved in the digital files and strategy in order to avoid confusion.

    The second issue is about trust among member states: The good example is “digital” Like-Minded group of member states and I would strongly recommend others to join that informal group. We need more of it. In principle, all governments agree that we need to build a digital single market but when it comes to details they start disagreeing a lot.

    I think we should come to terms with the idea that the DSM will provide varying benefits to our states, perhaps there will be winners next to losers in some areas. Nevertheless the long term benefits DSM can bring about for Europe will compensate for everything. Our governments are spending perhaps too much time discussing whether or not to act now. Other economies, the ones which we are competing with, such as China or the US, are not waiting for us to catch up with them.

     

    TDP: What we are discussing a lot right now is the so-called web tax. What is your position?

    KS: The idea came from Italy, Germany, France, Spain. Before we take a position we have to see the details first. We are not against this taxation but we made clear that we are against putting it through European models, such as the common corporate tax base (CCTB) and a common consolidated corporate tax base (CCCTB). We’d prefer to leave it to national level, through a sort of an equalization tax or an equalization levy, or to promote an action within the OECD framework.

    Picture credits: Tim Parkinson

     

     

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  • Digital Single Market

    The challenge of empowering the digitally excluded

    Bridging the digital skills gap in Europe is about more than just equipping people for the jobs of the future, writes Ilona Kish Digital technology is already transforming all aspects of modern life – from economic activity to social interactions. Ther [read more]
    byIlona Kish5 min read
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    Bridging the digital skills gap in Europe is about more than just equipping people for the jobs of the future, writes Ilona Kish

    Digital technology is already transforming all aspects of modern life – from economic activity to social interactions. There is no doubt that this transformation has the potential to bring enormous benefits. But it can also exacerbate existing inequalities. The key question is whether European society is equipped to keep up with the relentless pace of change.

    The European Commission’s recent White Paper on the Future of Europe notes that “increased use of technology and automation will affect all jobs and industries [and] making the most of the new opportunities will require a massive investment in skills and a major rethink of education and lifelong learning systems.” This means looking not only at what skills people need to develop, but also how they are taught them and even where they are learning them.

    The reality is that the nature of the challenge is constantly evolving. People are being trained to equip them with the skills to flourish in jobs that do not exist yet, and we may not even have imagined at this point.

    We are not just talking about building cutting edge expertise that will give Europe a competitive advantage over other regions of the world (and the Brits) but also the basic attributes needed to function in the workplace of the future. What is now considered ‘smart’ will soon be seen as normal.

    And it is not only about jobs. The digital skills gap will increasingly impact on how people go about their daily lives. Governments are using technology to make the delivery of public and social services more efficient.

    However, there is a risk that the largest segments of society will struggle to access e-government solutions, unless we urgently do something about the fact that in the digital single market we are trying to build, almost half of the European population still lacks basic digital skills and 20% of Europeans have no digital skills at all.

    No single institution or sector of activity can provide the answer to this problem. Governments need to keep upskilling at the top of their policy agendas. Public education will have a crucial role to play as it has always done. And employers will need to invest more than ever in providing lifelong learning opportunities to staff and management if they are to remain relevant and competitive in a changing world.

    But what of the many so-called NEETS who are not in education, employment or training? Or the many thousands of self-employed workers who struggle to find either the time, resources or setting to invest in updating their skills?

    What is needed is investment in and empowerment of public spaces that can act as a first port of call for digital inclusion where alternatives are not available. The good news is that we already have structures in place to meet this challenge: Europe’s 65.000 public libraries.

    Libraries have played an evolving role in helping citizens keep up with technological changes – from access to a fledgling internet to access to digital tools. The contemporary library is a mini-metropolis, and often the primary entry point for people wanting to make a change in their lives.

    Libraries are transforming into lively community hubs where people get together, connect, and where they have access to lifelong learning opportunities. The library offers a public space to experience new technologies such 3D printing and robotics, and a non-formal setting to learn vital skills such as coding.

    With the launch of the New Skills Agenda in 2016, the European Commission is taking important steps to ensure that people are equipped to meet the challenges of the future. But more work is needed to empower the digitally excluded and to guarantee that public spaces such telecentres and libraries can have the catalysing role they are set up to play.

     

    PL2020 will be organising the interactive “Generation Code: born at the library” exhibition at the European Parliament during Codeweek 2017. After the success of last year’s exhibition, the theme this year is “Smart Cities, Smart Citizens, Smart Libraries” – putting the spotlight on how future technologies are interacting with libraries across Europe.

    Picture: Markus Spsiske

     

     

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  • Startup Economy

    Discover how the Found.ation helps tech startups build in SE Europe

    Filippos Zakopoulos the Executive Director of the Found.ation, discusses the evolution of the start-ups ecosystem in Greece and the Balkan region and how the European Union is supporting and enabling further growth. The Digital Post: How the Found.ation [read more]
    byThe Digital Post4 min read
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    Filippos Zakopoulos the Executive Director of the Found.ation, discusses the evolution of the start-ups ecosystem in Greece and the Balkan region and how the European Union is supporting and enabling further growth.

    The Digital Post: How the Found.ation operates to help tech startups build?

    Filippos Zakopoulos: Found.ation has been a key player in the startup scene since 2011. Starting as a co-working space and then acting as an incubator, it has provided a great number of startups with valuable advice and access to a big network of key players of the startup ecosystem, such as mentors and investors. Also, having some of Greece’s largest companies as its clients, Found.ation has contributed in organizing acceleration programs, innovation competitions and hackathons, thus contributing in creating more opportunities for Greek startups, as well as startups from the greater Balkan region.

    Looking more specifically into the acceleration and incubation pillar, a number of the companies that have taken part in Found.ation’s programs have raised 6M Euro in funding from local and international VCs. This corresponds to 15% of all VC-backed technology companies in Greece during 2013-2016.
    Moreover, Found.ation acts as the local touchpoint for many international institutional investors, VCs and accelerators. Found.ation events have hosted so far Seedcamp, TheFamily, T-Ventures, Hub:raum, Axel Springer Plug&Play, Eleven, Launchub, Kompass Digital, Mojo Capital, 212 Ventures and the European Investment Fund, among others. Since 2015, Found.ation signed an exclusive agreement with the European open innovation organization EIT Digital, under the Arise Europe Program, with the objective of strengthening the Greek startup ecosystem, through the implementation of common, well-structured initiatives. The aim of the collaboration is to foster the ecosystem, support startups, give them faster access to the wider European market and hook them up with potential investors.

     

    TDP: What are the plans for the forthcoming future?

    FZ: Found.ation originally established in 2011 as one of the first co-working spaces in SE Europe, but has evolved also as a digital transformation consultant for corporations and a tech education hub. Our team strongly believes in the interaction between established corporations and startups. One of the key roles of Found.ation is to highlight these opportunities for cooperation between these two polar opposites and we already work with companies and organizations such as COSMOTE (Greece’s top telecommunication provider), Eurobank (one of the country’s largest banks) and the Municipality of Athens to make this happen. But startups are not the only ones to benefit from this kind of cooperation. Incumbents need to transform in order to stay agile and competitive and Found.ation helps them design innovative digital strategies, by teaching them how to adopt a more entrepreneurial mindset.

     

    TDP: How do you see the European startups ecosystem evolving?

    ZP: Europe is still far from becoming a new Silicon Valley, but on a more local level there are a lot of cities emerging as mature hubs, providing fertile soil for entrepreneurial bloom, like Amsterdam, Paris and Stockholm, among established spots like Berlin and London. The rest of the European countries are following their lead –Hungary and Estonia are emerging nods–, although they have yet a lot of distance to cover. Even in Southern and Eastern Europe, where the financial situation poses a significant barrier for prosperity, one can see optimistic signs of progress.

     

    TDP: Is the European Union doing enough? What further actions should be taken in your view?

    ZP: The first step towards solving a problem is identifying it. Europe has understood that it needs to take action and help local startup ecosystems in order for them to help boost their countries’ economies. A good example in this direction is the launch of EquiFund in Greece, part of the Commission’s Investment Plan for Europe. The new €260m Fund-of-Funds program, managed by the European Investment Fund, aims to boost entrepreneurship, by attracting private funding to all investment stages of the local equity market. But unlocking the equity potential in the market is only one part of the equation. The next step is to create policies that will enhance survivability and strengthen the ecosystem, such as tax and regulatory incentives. These measures need to be applied in local as well as pan-European level.

     

    Source: pixabay.com

     

     

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  • Future of the Internet

    Time to Make Content Neutrality into Law

    Nowadays, the main issue are not monopolies, not pricing levels. The issue is free and open space for innovation and the exchange of ideas. A law on internet content neutrality would ensure it.   The previous battle in the war for a free and ope [read more]
    byŽiga Turk5 min read
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    Nowadays, the main issue are not monopolies, not pricing levels. The issue is free and open space for innovation and the exchange of ideas. A law on internet content neutrality would ensure it.

     

    The previous battle in the war for a free and open Internet was about net neutrality — equal access for all to the plumbing level of the Internet. The next battle is about content neutrality — equal access for all to the content level of the internet. Content neutrality is more important than net neutrality. It is not about what speed is available to what service but about what voices are heard and what are suppressed. It should be made into a law.

     

    Net Neutrality
    I was one of those ministers in charge of information society that pushed hard for enshrining net neutrality into Slovenian law and into EU directives. We had some success. While the net neutrality hardliners would not be entirely satisfied, provisions have been made that ask for internet service providers and telecommunication companies that deal with the lower (plumbing) levels of the internet to treat all traffic equally. And not, for example, give faster lanes to Netflix and slower to YouTube, faster to CNBC.com and slower to CNN.com. A policy has been set up that is making sure that the competition among the service providers remains open and fair.

     

    Content Neutrality
    I define content neutrality as such policy of internet service providers that treats content of all users equally. User content is what a user of a service hosts or publishes to the service. Such as videos, writings, tweets, domain name address-books …

    A non-net-neutral internet would discriminate the speed of access to two different services, for example Facebook and Youtube. A non-content-neutral internet would discriminate between different YouTube videos, different Facebook posts, different hosted blogs, different apps in the AppStore, different services running on its cloud, different names in the domain name service … If such a discrimination is not based on technical attributes such as size, processing intensity etc. but is the discrimination based on the meaning of the content then it would constitute a breach of content neutrality.

     

     

    Content neutrality ensures an open and fair competition of ideas.

     

    Real world examples
    A real world analogy to net neutrality would be a highway authority that would offer trucks of one company priority lanes over trucks of another company. Or a post office that would be delivering packages sent by Amazon faster than the packages sent by a small independent merchant. Or an electricity company that would deliver electricity to household A but not to household B.

    A real world analogy to content neutrality would be a highway authority that would be inspecting the cargo on the trucks and allow milk to be transported, because it is good and healthy, but trucks with soda would have to turn around, because some believe drinking sugary drinks is bad for people. Or a post office that would deliver promotional material in favor of candidate A but refuse to deliver material for candidate B. In fact, the Spanish post office just did something like that with mail related to the Catalan referendum on independence. An example would be an electricity company that would deliver electricity to all except those that use it to electrocute animals because the CEO of the electricity company is a vegan.

     

    Host’s dilemma
    The real danger is not that some services or some content or some foods or some activities are prohibited, the real danger is that the companies providing the infrastructure — the hosting of the content or services — are arbitrarily deciding what they will host and what not. Much like the post office deciding it will not be carrying mail if it does not like what is written in the letter. Content neutrality means that all mail and all email is delivered regardless of the content. Net neutrality means that an email from Gmail travels as fast as email from Yahoo Mail. This example should make it clear how much more important content neutrality is than net neutrality.

    While some infrastructure service providers have already stared the practice of not treating all content equally — the notorious examples include de-platforming alt-right content on YouTube and denying Gab app on iTunes and Google Play — I do not believe that the infrastructure providers have much interest in policing the internet for inappropriate content. After all it is not highway authorities that are trying to catch drug traffickers on the highways. It is the police.

    Policing content is an added effort and nuisance for the Googles, Facebooks and Godaddys of the world. It opens them for all kinds of pressures and litigation. It is not their business, it is not their expertise, they should not have that authority. Currently they are caving in to pressure from interest groups and politicians that would like to have some content suppressed without the effort of going to court.

    Some companies are implementing voluntary codes of conduct. I do not believe this is a solution: serious offences and illegal content should not be left to voluntary measures. Legal content should not be subjected to any kind of measures.

     

     

    Arbitrary suppression of content means the end of the competition of ideas, the end of democracy, not to mention the end of open and free internet.

     

    Policy Recommendations
    Politicians should relieve the infrastructure providers and hosting services from the obligation to police their platforms and for the responsibility for the content someone has put there. And more. Infrastructure providers should be required to carry any legal content regardless of its perceived meaning.

    Voluntary codes of conduct should be about conduct and not about content. Shouting from the audience in the middle of a theater performance can be and is prohibited. People that do that are thrown out regardless of what they shout! But the company providing electricity should not decide if play Hamilton deserves its electricity or not. The law enforcement and the courts should police the cyberspace, not the voluntary militias like the Anti Defamation League, nor the algorithms of the infrastructure providers, nor the Wild-West vigilantes.

    Some argue that internet companies should be regulated as utilities and some of what has been suggested above would definitively be solved if they are treated as a utility. But that would be two wide. Digital world is different than the world of utilities of the 20th century. The issue are not monopolies, the issue are not pricing levels. The issue is free and open space for innovation and the exchange of ideas. A law on internet content neutrality would ensure it.

     

    Picture credits: TheNewOldStock

     

     

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  • Digital Single Market

    E-health in all politics: Connecting patients to better healthcare

    Today e-health has emerged as a concrete pathway to help tackle one of the greatest challenges of contemporary Europe: creating health systems that are sustainable and inclusive. The European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG), which is taking place in Bad Hofga [read more]
    byClemens Martin Auer3 min read
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    Today e-health has emerged as a concrete pathway to help tackle one of the greatest challenges of contemporary Europe: creating health systems that are sustainable and inclusive. The European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG), which is taking place in Bad Hofgastein from 4-6 October 2017, is a splendid opportunity to highlight this potential in all politics.

    Not too long ago, e-health was no more than a concept that offered a promising glimpse of what the future of healthcare might look like. Today e-health has emerged as a concrete pathway to help tackle one of the greatest challenges of contemporary Europe: creating health systems that are sustainable and inclusive, with the potential to function as the cornerstone of flourishing economies.

    The twentieth anniversary conference of the European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG), which will gather policy makers, researchers, as well as representatives from industry and civil society in Bad Hofgastein from 4-6 October 2017, is a splendid opportunity to highlight the potential of e-health in all politics.

    The theme of the EHFG 2017 – “Health in All Politics” – underscores the need to build bridges between health and all other areas of political and societal action and debate. to break silos, and to increase awareness of the interconnectedness of every choice we make, as policy makers, but also as citizens.

    Amid the challenges posed by ageing populations requiring more healthcare resources, e-health can be a powerful tool in facilitating these goals. With the help of e-health, policy makers now have the possibility to cater to population, but also to individual citizens’ needs, and directly cater to individual needs.

    E-health provides a pathway for improving access to medicines and care, for reducing wasteful spending, and improving the quality of overall care. E-health also allows for effective disease monitoring and, consequently, prevention.

    This year’s EHFG will provide a forum to address some of the challenges we face. I am referring in particular to cyber security, and the importance of striking a balance between the opportunities offered by e-health and free flowing data on the one hand, and ensuring patient safety and privacy on the other.

    We also need to ensure the interoperability of systems and overcome the existing barriers between jurisdictions. Finally, we need to address scepticism among citizens and patients about what e-health can do for them.[1]

    The horizontal nature of these challenges requires an “all-politics” approach. We have every reason to be optimistic in this regard. The European Commission has been taking initiatives on e-health and digital health as part of its Digital Single Market Strategy.

    In July 2017, it launched a consultation, which is still underway, to define the need and scope of policy measures that will promote digital innovation in improving people’s health, and address systemic challenges to health and care systems. And as co-chair of the e-health Network, I have seen the commitment of EU Member States to cooperate on boosting e-health.

    For instance, in 2016, 20 Member States decided to set up e-Health National Contact Points, to facilitate cross-border data exchange. E-health is also one of the priorities of the Estonian Presidency of the European Union (July-December 2017), and I am looking forward to the outcomes of its high-level conference, shortly after the EHFG in October.

    Healthcare systems are increasingly counting on technology to help them meet the needs of Europe’s citizens. We need a “Health in All-Politics”-encompassing strategy to make effective use of the e-health structures and tools, and to make Europe’s healthcare systems work better for patients, in a sustainable manner. I look forward to discussing these important issues at the EHFG.

    [1] The European Commission’s mHealth Green Paper consultation (2014) indicated that Europeans often lack trust in mobile health applications

     

    Picture credits: BEV Norton

     

     

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  • Media

    How the ‘fake news’ crackdown could end up with almighty social networks

    The soon-to-be-appointed EU expert group on fake news should seriously look into the overlooked danger that entrusting social networks with policing hate speech and fake news (for instance through voluntary codes) might actually give them a disproportiona [read more]
    byŽiga Turk6 min read
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    The soon-to-be-appointed EU expert group on fake news should seriously look into the overlooked danger that entrusting social networks with policing hate speech and fake news (for instance through voluntary codes) might actually give them a disproportionate power to shape public opinion.

    For me personally, the most enjoyable moment in that whole “fake news” commotion has been the re-discovery of the concept called truth by the progressives. Finally the pudding of post-modernist relativism was made available for eating. And it did not taste well.

    However, fake news and related phenomena, such as echo chambers and social bots, are a matter of concern for the entire political spectrum. Politicians and media feel challenged or even threatened by it. Some are even suggesting that in order to save democracy we need to regulate social media just like the printed press.

    The issue boils down to the balance between the right of free speech and the danger of false information. There is a growing tendency to make the danger look bigger and the issue of freedom of speech smaller in order to achieve balance and thereby justify more governmental control of the social media at the expense of freedom of speech.

    The advocates of tighter regulation of social media base their argument on a couple of wrong and unproven assumptions.

    The first wrong assumption is the gravity of the problem. It is simply not as bad as that “The functioning of democracies is at stake. Fake news is as dangerous as hate speech and other illegal content.”

    It is not as dangerous as hate speech and it is not illegal. Functioning of democracy is not at stake if two elections made “wrong” decisions.  Good arguments have been given that fake news did not have a serious impact on either the US elections or Brexit. And even if they did. Politics has always played dirty. Information war, lies, deception, false promises are fair game.

    The second wrong assumption is that possession of truth is possible. Most of the stories in mainstream media are supposed to be fact-checked and yet this does not prevent bias or falsehoods. What would be fact-check on a story claiming Iraq does not have WMD in 2003? If would be labelled fake news and suppressed.

    The belief that “the lack of trusted bearings undermines the very structure of society” shows a deep contempt and distrust in the citizens as if they are unable to form an opinion without an authority. In the past this was the Church, then the state and in the future it will be the “fact-checkers”.

    How wrong! Truth is not established by an authority. We are approaching truth in a confrontation of ideas and arguments. This should be preserved without limitations.

    The third wrong assumption is that those in position of truth can be impartial. The war of ideas will simply move from debating the ideas on the Web to the meddling with the “fact-checking” authorities. Who nominates them? Politicians? I am sure they would be happy to.

    Or will they be “experts”? The “reporting” of hate speech is, as we speak, left to the organized soldiers on the internet and bots. The fight is increasingly not about ideas but about how to get Twitter or Facebook close, silence or demote accounts that spread “wrong” arguments.

    The fourth wrong assumption is the attitude towards free speech. Advocates of regulation of social media claim that “freedom of speech is not limitless. It is enjoyed only within some sort of framing, such as ‘enhancing the access to and the diversity and quality of the channels and the content of communication’.” This is wrong. Freedom of speech is limited with other freedoms, not by nice-to-haves diversity and quality!

    They say that “it would be rather naïve to guarantee totally unrestricted freedom of speech to those whose long-term aim is to destroy democracy and its freedoms altogether.” Then the whole idea of the freedom of speech is naïve. If it is not hate speech, if it is not a credible call to commit a crime, if it cannot be privately prosecuted as libel, it has to be free.

     

    The real problem

    In the effort to exaggerate the problem on one hand, and to water down the issue of free speech on the other we are missing a bigger issue. And that is the danger that the authority to control thought and speech is outsourced to the industry. There is also an emerging danger that the “big-social” (Facebook, Twitter, Google, Snap …) will abuse its power to shape public opinion and to form, in bed with big government, a controlled cyberspace environment.

    To make the “big-social” fight the fake news, they would be treated as newspapers. If they are newspapers they can legitimately lean to one or the other political side, as most newspapers do. This would then allow Facebook or Twitter to actively promote certain political parties. If they are forced down that road, image how much worse the echo-chamber problem would get, when the other side organizes their own social network. We will have, for example, the left on Twitter and the right on Gab!

    I am convinced that it is important that the big-social offers a neutral and impartial platform for the exchange of ideas. If anything this is something to regulate – in the direction of content neutrality, transparency of algorithms and of decisions whose accounts are to be disabled or punished in some other way for bad behavior. Internet promised to be an open space for the exchange of ideas. Let’s not ruin that! Let the big-social offer communication platforms and let’s not drag them into policing what people think!

    All that the legislators should demand are that the platforms are available for free and open exchange of ideas. Not “voluntary code of conduct” and not for big-social to “have their own guidelines to clarify users what constitutes illegal hate speech”.

    What is illegal hate speech should be defined by law and enforced by courts. Censorship should not be outsourced to social media companies. If we go down that road we may end up with the alliance of the big-government and big-social to create a controlled and biased cyberspace that would dwarf the worst Orwellian nightmares.

     

    Freedom of fake news

    Freedom of speech includes freedom of fake news. Existing laws for hate speech, libel and copyright infringement should be used against the authors not against the big-social. Measures are needed to strengthen individual responsibility and not to ask the big-social to police the internet. Real name policy should be promoted by labelling content that has real name and thus responsible authors. This is also a cure against the future threat of AI and bots interfering in places where humans socialize. Verified accounts are a good step in this direction.

    The disease of politics are fake politicians, fake policies, fake statistics, fake promises. Fake news are just a symptom. We should be treating the disease. And the best way to make a distinction between the bad and fake and the good and real is through a clash of ideas. The future of our civilization depends on preserving the internet as an open space for a free exchange of ideas. Any kind of ideas.

     

    Picture Credits: ciocci

     

     

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  • Innovation

    Meet the first European Junior Olympiads in Informatics

    The Digital Post talks with President of the International Olympiad in Informatics Krassimir Manev about the first European Junior Olympiads in Informatics, taking place in Sofia from 7 to 13 September 2017. His recipe to fix Europe’s digital skills gap [read more]
    byThe Digital Post4 min read
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    The Digital Post talks with President of the International Olympiad in Informatics Krassimir Manev about the first European Junior Olympiads in Informatics, taking place in Sofia from 7 to 13 September 2017. His recipe to fix Europe’s digital skills gap: Regular teaching of Informatics and Information Technologies from the first to very last year of school education.

    The Digital Post: The first European Junior Olympiads in Informatics are opening today. How the will it work?

    Prof. Krassimir Manev: International Olympiads in Informatics are not new. Back in 1989, Bulgaria organized the first international contest for school students – the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI).  In 2007, Serbia hosted the first Olympiad in Informatics for students aged 15,5 in the middle of the year of the contest – the Junior Balkan Olympiad in Informatics (JBOI) – it is a small contest and is not organized every year.

    The event that is starting today – the first European Junior Olympiad in Informatics eJOI (http://ejoi.org/) gathers students of the abovementioned age from 22 Council of Europe member countries – more than the number of countries that took part in the first IOI. Among them are four of the first five countries in the eternal ranking of IOI (Russia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria). We expect to have a very interesting and unpredictable competition of the best European young programmers. And we are also confident that eJOI will soon become one of the most successful events in the area of competitive programming and the results of the contestants from Europe will improve.

    The Digital Post: What is its main purpose of the initiative?

    Prof. Krassimir Manev: Our main goal is to demonstrate that teaching algorithms and programming for students of age 13-15 is absolutely possible. And more specifically, that  young students could achieve better level of knowledge and skills in Informatics when thay start early. We are sure that this is the right way to go and a guarantee for successfull career in the filed. Тhat is why me and my colleagues have made significant efforts to organize international competitions for junior students – the JBOI first and eJOI now.

    The Digital Post: The International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) are a well known, thirty-year long successful story. Where do you see it going in the following years?

    Prof. Krassimir Manev: The IOI made significant progress in the past 30 years. First contest had one competition day and contestants had to solve a single task for 4 hours. Now IOI  is two day contest with three tasks each day for 4 hours each day. In 1989, in order to solve the task, contestants had to modify a classic algorithm from the textbooks (BFS, for people that know what this means). Today,  if somebody proposes such task for a contest of the  juniors it will be rejected as too easy.

    For 30 years IOI made a substantial progress and evolved a lot – instead of reproducing and modifying classic algorithms from textbooks nowadays contestants have to construct/invent algorithms that are not published in any textbook. Sometimes  students that participate in IOI create algorithms that are eligible to be published in a scientific journal. My imagination is not enough to predict what will happen in IOI in 10 years. The only thing that I am sure of is that the progress will continue.

    The Digital Post: Digital skills gap is still a major challenge for Europe despite the increasing efforts to address it. In your view, what might be the good recipe to tackle the problem, especially on the side of education?

    Prof. Krassimir Manev: My answer is clear. I have stated this many years ago, I did not change my opinion since that time and probably I’ll dedicate the rest of my life to plead for implementing this – regular teaching of Informatics and Information Tecnologies from the first to very last year of school education. The Olympiad that we start today is one of the arguments in favor of the idea!  I hope that the authorities from European institutions will understand what I’m pleading for and will support our efforts – in general and in particular to make eJOI a tradition.

    For more information check the webpage of the initative: http://ejoi.org/

    Picture credits: slimmer_jimmer

     

     

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