European Commission’s alleged plans to impose monitoring obligations (“duty of care”) on online platforms would undermine the Internet as a platform open to posting and sharing content, argues Jens-Henrik Jeppesen, Representative and Director for European Affairs at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT).
The Digital Post: The European Commission’s consultation on the role of online platforms hints at expanding the liability of intermediaries as regards illegal content hosted online. What exactly the Commission has in mind?
Jens-Henrik Jeppesen: We do not know exactly what the Commission has in mind. In its various recent policy statements the Commission has only hinted at the prospect of changing the current rules.
This is the case, both in the Digital Single Market Communication from May 2015, the DSM Platforms Consultation that has just finished (see CDT response here) and in the 9 December Copyright Communication.
In the latter document, the Commission says that it will consider options for amending the IP Enforcement Directive. It also notes that the platforms consultation raises the option of ’take down and stay down’.
Effectively this can only mean introduction of a general monitoring obligation on intermediaries, which is not allowed under the E-Commerce Directive. We want to preserve this protection.
TDP: What might be the general implications of these obligations, were it introduced?
JHJ: As we explain in various of our statements and documents, a monitoring obligation if it were to be introduced, would require intermediaries of all kinds to police, screen and filter for content that might be argued by some to be illegal.
This could be anything from alleged hate speech, defamation, radicalising content, or copyright infringement. It is often a difficult, delicate and highly subjective evaluation to make.
It would undermine the Internet as we know it as a platform open to posting and sharing of blogs, comments, podcasts, pictures and all kinds of material because any hosting platform would have to first ensure that whatever is posted/shared cannot be judged to be illegal.
The incentives for intermediaries would be to be overly restrictive to avoid expensive legal challenges and lawsuits. The consequence would without a doubt be to severely restrict free expression and debate on the Internet.
It would also impose massive costs and risks on start up Internet companies – exactly the type of enterprise European politicians would like to see grow and scale.
TDP: How, then, to ensure “greater responsibility” from online intermediaries without resorting to new legal obligations?
JHJ: First of all, the current rules (the E-Commerce Directive) rightly shield intermediaries from liability – but only if they take action once notified about illegal content on their networks. So, an intermediary cannot simply ignore notification that illegal content has been published on their network or platform.
If it does not act on a notice, it will lose its liability protection. That is already a strong incentive for intermediaries to act swiftly when notified about illegal content. Further, most intermediaries enforce their own terms of service.
Most social networks give users the possibility to flag content and comments that they consider to be illegal or against terms of service (for example, racist or anti-Semitic comments).
The same applies to content that violates copyright. There are also various agreements to ‘follow-the-money’, i.e. make it difficult for websites that systematically offer pirated content on a commercial scale to operate.
There is for example an memorandum of understanding between trademark owners and online trading services to stop trading in counterfeit goods, illegal medicines and the like.
TDP: The Centre for Democracy and Technology has also voiced doubts regarding the way the Commission is using the notion of “online platforms”. Why?
JHJ: As we explain in our platforms consultation response, the platforms definition is so broad that it captures so many types of companies in different industries that it becomes meaningless.
Furthermore, these companies are already subject to consumer rules, competition rules, data protection law etc., no matter whether they operate wholly or partly or not at all online.
It is not clear that it makes sense to create a new category of company to which particular regulation applies. Technology and business models evolve rapidly, and laws should not be drafted for specific technologies or business models.
photo credits: James Lavin
Artificial Intelligence is here to stay and is going to change our civilization in profound ways. That is why we must learn to live alongside machines and to make the best of their intelligence, argues Nell Watson engineer, entrepreneur and futurist thinker at Singularity University.
How do you see the AI developing in 10 years time? And what kind of challenges you see in perspective?
What are the main changes in our society that would result from such an evolution of machine learning?
What would be the negative impact and how to avoid it?
What kind of regulation would be needed? Should decision-makers start looking into it as of now?
Within the cultural landscape, if you should choose a science fiction book or movie, which better describes a likely future about the evolution of the Artificial Intelligence?
Nell Watson is an engineer, entrepreneur, and futurist thinker who grew up in Northern Ireland. She has a longstanding interest in the psychology of technology, and how that combination creates emerging social trends. Nell lectures globally on Machine Intelligence, AI philosophy, Human-Machine relations, and the Future of Human Society.
Implementing effective policies to counter the terrorists’ use of the Internet should be part of a strengthened cooperation between Europe and the North-African region, argues Hicham Rahil, National Bureau Member of Popular Movement of Morocco.
Terrorist networks such as IS are increasingly making use of the internet. What can we do to effectively face this threat at a global level?
What kind of cooperation with North-African countries does Europe need today to face the ongoing terroristic threat?
You advocate more cooperation between Europe, the North African region, and, more generally, the Mediterranean countries to oppose terrorism. Do you think the digital dimension should be part of this?
Do you have the impression that Europe is excessively focusing on Syria and overlooking the terrorist threat in Sahel and North Africa?
photo credit: Rappler.com
The Digital Post has met James Windon and Matt Mahan, respectively President and CEO of Brigade, the new much-hyped app for sharing political views. For now, the primary aim of the platform is to boost civic engagement in the US in view of the next presidential elections. Can it become also in Europe a useful tool to bridge the historical gap between the EU and its citizens?
What is the main idea behind Brigade?
What has been the general response so far? How do you think the tool might be of help in the context of the next US presidential elections?
How social and technologies can play a role in enhancing civic engagement?
Internet can be a formidable tool to push political engagement, but also towards undemocratic values, as it is illustrated in Europe by the rise of populism movements, which have been thriving on the use of social networks and media. What do you think?
photo credit: Stuart Boreham
Fintech startups and traditional banks are increasingly realizing that they need to collaborate to capture new opportunities, argues Mariano Belinky, Managing Partner at Santander InnoVentures. Traditional banks can learn from startups new ways of serving costumers while startups can leverage banks’ consumers to bring them their products.
The Digital Post: How InnoVentures is supporting the growing wave of fintech firms? What are the main aims of the fund?
TDP: Can fintech startups be an opportunity, instead of a threat, for traditional bannks?
TDP: How the rise of fintech firms are affecting and can reshape the financial sector, and in particular the baking industry?
TDP: Santander is among the banks investigating into the technology underpinning bitcoin. What is the potential for the traditional banking sector?
TDP: Is funding still a major barrier for the European startup ecosystem?
Mariano Belinky: Since December 2014 he manages Santander InnoVentures, Santander Group's global venture capital fund, focused in early stage Financial Technology investments. He joined Santander InnoVentures from McKinsey & Co., where he was an Associate Principal in the Corporate and Investment Banking and Global Risk Management practices, based in New York. Here, he spent six years advising global banks, asset managers and private equity firms acrossNorth America, Europe and Latin America on multiple strategic topics.
photo credit: Chewy734
In an exclusive interview released on the sidelines of the Web Summit in Dublin, the European Ombudsman talks with The Digital Post about the relationship between EU citizens and institutions in the time of social media, the impact of tech lobbying and much more.
Do you think digital technologies are improving the accountability of the EU institutions and their democratic dimension?
How the EU Ombudsman stand up for new forms of participative democracy based on digital technologies?
U.S. tech companies are the biggest spenders on corporate lobbying in Brussels. Do you see any risk?
Critics argue that Europe’s approach to U.S. tech companies is driven by protectionism. What is your opinion?
A few months ago the EU Ombudsman opened an inquiry into the EC’s handling of the Google antitrust case. How the investigation is progressing?
Emily O'Reilly was elected as the European Ombudsman in July 2013 and took office on 1 October 2013. She was re-elected in December 2014 for a five year mandate. She is an author and former journalist and broadcaster who became Ireland's first female Ombudsman and Information Commissioner in 2003 and in 2007 she was also appointed Commissioner for Environmental Information.
Photo credit:Matt Foster
One of the key points of the Google antitrust case in Europe is that there are also US companies among the complainants, which contradicts the argument that the EU is adopting a protectionist approach against US innovation, argues MEP Ramon Tremosa.
Have you had any second thoughts about the “Google break-up” motion?
Are we sure Europe is not waging a “protectionist” war against US tech giants as many critics argue?
Ms Vestager has taken an hard line on the Google case. After the first SO sent in April, what do you expect she will do in the following months?
Some critics insist that it remains difficult to determine an anti-competitive behavior in the online search business. What is your view about that?
US tech giants, including Google, are investing more and more millions to influence the European policy. What is your opinion about that?
Ramon Tremosa i Balcells is a Democratic Convergence of Catalonia politician - The Liberal Party in the current government of Cataluña. He follows the Economic and International Trade committee in the EP as well as the USA and Israel Dele. He has a special interest in economics, transport, logistics, trade and competition cases, in particular in the digital market field and the Google antitrust case.
photo credit: brett jordan
The European Commission has just launched a consultation to look into the needs for Internet speed and quality beyond 2020. We need to make sure that our broadband policies are driven by a vision that takes into account all the different scenarios we may face in the next twenty years, says Anna Krzyżanowska, Head of Unit Broadband at DG CONNECT.
The Digital Post: What is the purpose of the consultation?
Anna Krzyżanowska: Just after the launch of the Digital Single Market strategy and five years before the broadbandtarget date we have realized that the most active families and SMEs using current applications and services may be needing more than 30 megabits per second.
At the same time several organizations, including public institutions such as schools, may need a connection of more than 100 megabytes per second in order to perform their online activities.
Hence, having reviewed the available literature and the projections on the increased use of Internet networks, we want to know what is the opinion of the general public regarding the connectivity needs they might have beyond 2020.
Let me also stress one more important element of reflection: at the moment in Europe there is a large availability of publicly supported funds, with the European structural funds alone providing six billion euros for broadband networks and the opportunity to unlock huge resources under the European Strategic Investment Fund.
We need to make sure that these investments are supported by decisions and by a vision that look beyond 2020 to the trends of the next ten or twenty years.
The Digital Post: In a word, the consultation will help shape the new European Digital Single Market after 2020.
Anna Krzyżanowska: Definitely. This consultation is part of an evidence building exercise which will orientate our decisions as to whether or not a new broadband policy should emerge within the context of the digital single market.
It’s not about what we want to build or what we’re building today, but whether that’s going to be enough to enable the considerable benefits that the digital single market can bring us.
This is the main question we are trying to answer through this consultation by focusing on those sectors that will be the main users and beneficiaries of the digital single market.
The Digital Post: What are the sectors whose demand for connectivity will jump in the following years?
Anna Krzyżanowska: We want to listen from people building applications or those currently developing band-hungry services, mainly game producers or media companies.
We will look at the needs that will be generated by cloud computing as well as by the expanding availability of shared software and shared platforms, which is of particular importance for the definition of the needed upload capacity of networks.
In addition to that, there are certain services that will require higher security or ubiquitous access. It is difficult to imagine for instance a ministry of education introducing electronic school books if it cannot do it across the territory.
A similar consideration applies for instance to health monitoring, which could bring enormous savings to the public sector by keeping people out of institutionalized health, i.e. out of hospitals.
We will also take inspiration from the research programs of the Commission focusing on future services: on health services or in the manufacturing sector. And we obviously will talk to automotive companies which are working on the connected car.
At the moment we’re doing fine but what will be the implications for the quality of networks when all of us in Europe will have a connected car?
The Digital Post: And from the point of view of the households what will be the main factors driving a higher demand?
Anna Krzyżanowska: Looking at the future, it is the cloud computing which will mostly drive the need for more connectivity, especially in terms of upload speed. As for the download, the same can be said for the consumption and exchange of video content.
However, it is also very difficult to define what a household is. In the case of somebody starting his own company and working from home the needs of a household turn into those of a small enterprise, and in that particular case the value of services or software sharing becomes extremely important.
In any case, it’s very unpredictable what our home connection will serve in 10 years time. That is why we need to make sure that our investment decisions may reflect the different scenarios we may face in the future.
The Digital Post: However, setting higher broadband targets might stir discontent among some telecoms stakeholders.
Anna Krzyżanowska: The reaction of different stakeholders may be quite predictable. There’s a general resistance in accepting that the world is going in a certain direction.
Hence, we are not starting with a proposal, but rather with a public consultation so as to allow everybody to voice their views and perhaps their reservations.
Having said that, I believe that we can find plenty of examples in which we have underestimated technological developments and the strain they have put on infrastructures.
This is all the more true for the digital networks: we are not only facing more people using these infrastructures but we also facing different ways of using them. Hence, whereas it may be not in the interest of some people to have that discussion, I believe that it is very important.
Big telecom companies often tell us that the demand would not materialize quickly enough. And I believe that in some cases they’re right: there are some countries or certain population categories that are more conservative than others and it’s very difficult to make a generalized statement.
However, I believe that speed or quality of connection is addictive and it is contagious so the more people have it the more people will ask for it and that will probably drive the dynamics of demand fairly quickly.
The Digital Post: What is the link between this consultation and the concomitant consultation on the review of the telecom framework?
Anna Krzyżanowska: Telecom review is a legal requirement of the legislation. On one hand it is written within the legislation that it needs to be periodically reviewed.
Second, the Commission has made a commitment to better regulation and we in general look whether the regulation proposed has fulfilled its objectives, whether it’s still effective efficient and effective and has the right impact.
From that perspective we would have done a review of the framework irrespectively of whether the market needs for connectivity change or not. But since we have an instinct that they are changing and they will be actually changing throughout the period of the review and beyond, it is obviously important to link the two processes.
Regulation is there for a reason and the reason is to make sure that the consumers get the connectivity that they want. From that perspective there’s no difference between the regulatory objective and the policy objective as it is explained in the digital agenda and as it is intended in the digital single market.
I believe it’s particularly good that policy reflection, regulatory fine-tuning or improvements and the availability of funds are actually happening at the same time.
Anna Krzyżanowska is the Head of Unit « Broadband » at DG CONNECT of the European Commission. In addition to policy activities focusing on achieving Digital Agenda for Europe broadband targets, she is coordinating the efforts related to Connecting Europe Facility and future Cohesion Framework in the areas relevant to DG CONNECT.
photo credit: European Commission
In case of Brexit, UK tech would risk losing out on what is the most vibrant and growing sector of the UK economy, argues Tech London Advocates founder and chair Russ Shaw.
The Digital Post: How the UK government’s increasingly restrictive approach to immigration is affecting the domestic tech sector and why?
Russ Shaw: The pipeline for tech talent needs to be much larger, but the government’s increasingly restrictive approach to immigration is slowing this down. Experts predict that by 2020 we will suffer from a shortage of 300,000 digitally-skilled people. Members of Tech London Advocates have consistently identified a shortage of talent as the single biggest obstacle to the continued growth of London’s technology sector. The UK needs a growing, not a shrinking pool of skilled tech workers.
The Digital Post: Is this having an impact, or could it have an impact, on the European tech ecosystem as a whole?
Russ Shaw: London has been branded the most important tech hub across Europe, with the number of companies in London’s digital technology sector increasing by 46% since the launch of Tech City five years ago. Further restrictions to immigration policy could cause a redistribution of tech companies and leaders across other European capitals. Countries with more flexible immigration policies and respected tech reputations will attract much more EU and global talent deflected by UK immigration policy.
The Digital Post: The government immigration plans are not only targeting non-EU citizens. The Home Secretary openly called into question the free movement of workers across Europe. What this mean from the perspective of the UK tech industry?
Russ Shaw: The UK’s tech sector thrives off its diversity and international community. Thus, calling into question the free movement of workers across the Europe will distance us from the very tool central to much of the UK tech industry’s success.
The Digital Post: What would an EU exit mean for UK tech?
Russ Shaw: UK tech would risk losing out on what is the most vibrant and growing sector of the UK economy. Businesses will look to expand elsewhere and miss out on being part of EU-wide initiatives like the Digital Single Market, currently under development and discussion within the EU.
According to research conducted by business intelligence company Duedil and the Centre for Entrepreneurs, immigrant entrepreneurs have founded one in every seven companies in the UK and employ 1.16m people around the country. We need to continue to build the attractiveness for entrepreneurs doing business in London and across the UK in order to retain and nurture the best talent and create job growth.
photo credit: Jens Aarstein Holm
Protectionist policies, such as recently adopted German retrictions on public sector cloud use, can ultimately translate into a threat for the open and global structure of the Internet, argues Daniel Castro, Vice President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and Director of the Center for Data Innovation
The Digital Post: Newly adopted German rules for government cloud computing means official data can only be processed in Germany. What is your opinion?
Daniel Castro: This is an unfortunate development, both for Germany and for others. First, countries like Germany should be an ally in support of free trade, and by enacting these types of non-tariff barriers to trade it gives cover to other countries who want to enact protectionist measures.
Second, by restricting access to foreign cloud providers, Germany is “cutting off its nose to spite its face.” Germany organizations benefit from having access to the best cloud providers, and many of these are foreign companies. This will raise costs and decrease productivity for affected organizations.
Third, there is little real benefit in terms of privacy and security to storing data within the country versus abroad. Countries should be working to clarify any distinctions. This is one reason my think tank has called for a “Geneva Convention on the Status of Data” to determine when government agencies can lawfully request access to data.
Most developed countries should be able to agree to common standards and abide by them. The end goal should be a data free trade zone that extends globally.
The Digital Post: Ever since the Snowden revelations came out, German PM Angela Merkel has been advocating for a separate European communication network/infrastructure. What might be the implications of such project, if it ever is implemented?
Daniel Castro: United States and Europe are allies on many issues, and it would be counterproductive to build separate infrastructure rather than working together towards a common goal.
Neither wants the other to spy on them, so they should be able to come to terms to upgrade the infrastructure we already share.
The greater threat to both U.S. and German interests are from China, so there is an opportunity to put aside past issues and come together to confront a looming issue.
The Digital Post: You often speak about the rise of “data nationalism” across the world. What is this phenomenon about?
Daniel Castro: Many countries are trying to pass laws and regulations to keep data within their borders, such as by requiring data to be processed locally. One reason countries are doing this is because they believe it will help create jobs, such as construction jobs for data centers.
But the net impact is very negative, as it raises the cost of doing business for the rest of the economy, and many businesses are increasingly dependent on cloud infrastructure. Moreover, some rules limit cross-border data flows which means a multinational company will run into serious issues as it tries to operate on a global scale.
The Digital Post: Is data nationalism a threat to the current structure and functioning of the Internet? Why?
Daniel Castro: Yes. The primary benefit of the Internet is that it is a global, open network available to all. Protectionist policies can chip away at this ideal until we are eventually left with a series of disjointed national or regional Internets.
Policymakers should be very concerned about overreacting to short-term fears about data privacy at the expense of damaging the potential growth of data-driven innovation in the Internet economy.