New Method Required to Make Digital Data Flow Useful to All

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said on Wednesday that the world needs a new way to allow as many people as possible to access digital data across borders.

The agency stated at the publication of its Digital Economy Report 2021 that this will assist in optimize development gains and guarantee that they are dispersed equitably.

UNCTAD noted that a new model should enable global data exchange, accelerate the development of global digital “public goods,” boost trust, and minimize uncertainty in the digital economy.

The new global system, according to the paper, must help avoid additional internet fragmentation, solve policy difficulties arising from digital platforms’ dominating positions, and narrow current inequities.

According to the research, digital data is becoming more essential as an economic and strategic resource, a trend that has been accelerated by the COVID-19 epidemic.

Sharing health data globally, for example, is of “critical importance” since it can aid countries in fighting disease outbreaks and in the development of effective vaccines through research. UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan stated, “The issue of digital governance can no longer be postponed”.

UNCTAD proposes the establishment of a new UN coordinating agency tasked with analyzing and implementing global digital and data governance.

The organization should work to address developing nations’ underrepresentation and give enough policy space for countries with varying levels of digital readiness and capacity to fully benefit.

According to the research, there are now radically divergent approaches to data governance, with three major players — the United States, China, and the European Union (EU), playing a prominent role.

In summary, the US method promotes private-sector data control, the Chinese model stresses government data control, and the EU favors individual data control based on fundamental rights and values.

Countries would be able to better exploit data for public benefit, agree on rights and principles, set standards, and improve international collaboration under the new method.

The report also stated that cross-border data flow governance is at a standstill due to differing ideas and positions on their regulation.

According to the report, the proposed new global data governance strategy might help build a middle-ground solution, pointing out that current regional and international regulatory frameworks are either too narrow in scope or too geographically confined.

According to the report, a data divide is forming, with many developing countries becoming merely providers of raw data to global digital platforms while paying for the digital intelligence derived from their data.

Only 20% of people in the least developed countries (LDCs) access the internet, and when they do, it’s usually at slow download rates and at a hefty cost, according to the report.

It was also highlighted that the average mobile broadband speed in affluent countries is roughly three times that of LDCs. And, whereas up to eight out of ten internet users in certain rich countries purchase online, just about one out of ten do so in many LDCs, according to the report.

According to the research, the United States and China are the leaders in data exploitation. They are home to 50% of the world’s hyper-scale data centers, the world’s greatest rates of 5G adoption, 70% of the world’s top artificial intelligence (AI) researchers, and 94% of all AI startup investment.

The two countries also account for around 90% of the market capitalization of the world’s top digital platforms, and their profits and market capitalization values have skyrocketed as a result of the pandemic.

The report warns that regulating cross-border data transfers without also considering the governance of digital firms is becoming increasingly challenging.

These platforms are continuing to build out their own data ecosystems and gaining control over all stages of the global data value chain.

Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet (Google), Facebook, Tencent, and Alibaba, the world’s major digital platforms, are investing more in all aspects of the global data value chain, according to the report.

For example, Amazon has invested $10 billion in satellite broadband, and between 2016 and 2020, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft were the leading acquirers of AI firms.

In the fourth quarter of 2020, four major platforms (Alibaba, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft) accounted for 67% of global cloud infrastructure services revenues.

The contents of the report will be discussed during UNCTAD’s 15th quadrennial conference, which will be held online from 3 to 7 October.