miércoles, 29 de mayo de 2019

The needed temporary status of self-regulation

Although we seen Internet as a massive service as quite recent and young, the truth is that its story goes back nearly thirty years old. The network and its services have evolved so quickly that even for those who lived the first years is difficult some times to appreciate how things have changed. Only for that reason is good to read books such as "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism", the one I´m currently reading. In particular, such a reading is good to discover the reasons why things have gone wrong in some aspects of how Internet is nowadays.

Without any doubt, the most hated feature of internet services is the eager for capturing our personal data. Certainly, the EU regulation such as RGPD has curtailed this trend, but things would be better for our privacy if the US would have a similar regulation. We see the later as an almost impossible event and some blame the different regulatory tradition of privacy of the situation. Nevertheless, the reason is completely different. As the author of the book mentioned above remember us, privacy was on the way of being strongly regulated before 9/11 happened, but the hangover of the worst terrorist attack ever in US soil changed everything. After the attack, the invasion of privacy by digital platforms began to be see as a useful tool for national security and everything on the US institutions rapidly forget the idea of a regulation. Obviously, platforms grasped the opportunity and went further on this area. Obviously, the platforms also quickly forget the self-regulation promises on the matter.

The lesson to be learnt of what happened is never to lose an opportunity to do the right thing on the regulation of digital platforms.

One of the most worrisome issues around digital platforms nowadays is their collaboration on spreading disinformation, particularly through target ads. After the evidence of the usage of this tool in some elections and referendums, the European Commission has tried to curve their use in the elections for the European Parliament. However, instead of passing a regulation the European Commission asked for voluntary measures from the platforms and a periodical review of their effectiveness. And apparently, things have worked.

Probably, now the temptation may be leave things as they are. That would be an error, now it´s the time to develop a regulation based on the lessons learnt instead of trusting that the self-regulations introduced will continue to work in the future. The sad tendency of human beings is to stop a voluntary costly behaviour when no one is looking. Therefore, we can expect that platforms would stop applying the non compulsory rules on place as soon as there´s no one watching thoroughly, and if you need to maintain your vigilance it would be better to do with the back of an actual regulation.

Self-regulation maybe a good temporary solution, but never a perpetual situation. If you have the evidences to regulate better take the opportunity to do it after you have tested the self-regulation measures for a while. Not taking the adecquate measures on the right time is certainly the door to future laments.



miércoles, 22 de mayo de 2019

Has Zuckerberg called for more regulation?

After many years fighting efforts to introduce regulations on the digital world, particularly the proposals in this area of the European Union, Facebook´s CEO surprised everyone with a call for a stronger regulation of the Internet. Zuckerberg pointed to four areas where he thought governments should focus their regulatory tasks: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability. But what is behind this call? Has Facebook´s CEO be repented of the many scandals around the company that has been discovered the last year?

First of all, it should be highlighted the attention on the areas that Zuckerberg called to be regulated. There's no one of them where the EU has not developed policy-making efforts that Facebook has fought and accepted to comply with reluctancy. Furthermore, privacy and data portability of them is already regulated in Europe by the GDPR. Regarding harmful content and election integrity, the EU has established the framework for self-regulation that is moitoring closely in order to detect the need for regulation. Therefore, maybe Zuckerberg is uncomfortable with the close scrutiny in the latter two areas and what is calling is to a quick close of it before new areas of concern in them could arise.

Secondly, it looks that something is starting to change within the US legislative institutions. Various act proposals has arrived the Congress to be analysed related with algorithm transparency on the usage of personal data and the spread of disinformation. Therefore, Zuckerberg call for regulation maybe understood as an effort to mark the limits of the US regulatory efforts. Furthermore, the praise for the EU regulatory framework on privacy is nothing more than a call to copy this legislation in the US with any regulatory innovation that impose two different regulations in the two main Facebook markets and a race towards higher levels of privacy that may inflict more limits to the development of the company business.

Last but not least, Zuckerberg has made a careful choice of the areas he has called to be regulated. On one hand, as we have described above, he has not called for the regulation of any area that has not be already regulated or close to be regulated. On the other hand, he has not included in his list other areas where regulation is started to emerge or to be studied that would really create a change for Facebook business model, such as the introduction of a more fair global taxing system that fits with the digital world or a review of the basis of competency rules and their adecuation to online platforms business models.

So as usually happens, the call for a stronger regulation of the Internet made by Zuckerberg should be called as such but on the other way around. What Facebook´s CEO is calling is to stop exploring which regulations are needed beyond the already discovered and establishing a limit for the focus of the regulations on technical issues without entering into the regulation the market rules. It´s not a call for a stronger regulation, but a call for not introducing more regulation.

miércoles, 15 de mayo de 2019

"Filek: el estafador que engaño a Franco" - Ignacio Martínez Pisón

Filek: El estafador que engañó a FrancoFilek: El estafador que engañó a Franco by Ignacio Martínez de Pisón
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Como Ignacio Martínez Pisón, descubrí la existencia de Filek en la biografía que Paul Preston escribió sobre Franco. Entre las mas de 1000 páginas de la monumental obra del historiador inglés, un párrafo esbozaba la historia de un hombre que en la primera hora de los cuarenta años de dictadura fascista se había atrevido a estafar a Franco. Irresistiblemente, la imaginación quedaba capturada fantaseando con las escenas en las que una persona le hizo creer al dictador que era combustible lo que tan sólo era agua con ingredientes vegetales.

Me era imposible no querer saber más de quién era Filek. Busqué infructuosamente algún relato más detallado que sólo ahora existe con la obra de Martínez Pisón. La biografía del timador permite entender cómo todo fue posible. En la corte chabacana de aduladores de un dictador cuartelero, era inevitable que no tuviera éxito un charlatan que hacia remontar sus orígenes al imperio austro-húngaro. La escalada de engaños que constituye la de vida Filek, no deja de ser un entrenamiento para llegar a la audacia del golpe final, forzosamente destinado al fracaso.

Y sin embargo, el libro me ha resultado decepcionante. El autor escoge el registro equivocado de una fría investigación académica para relatar la historia de Filek. No me cabe duda que un relato más novelado, con dosis de ironía y sarcasmo, hubiera permitido una explotación mayor de la biografía del timador. Ciertamente más inventado y menos riguroso, pero quien no hubiese disfrutado con un relato cáustico de un diálogo entre Filek y el dictador.

Un libro necesario, pero una oportunidad perdida. O quizás tan solo el primer paso para que alguien escriba la obra que la historia de Filek demanda.




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miércoles, 8 de mayo de 2019

It´s not EU cybersecurity, it´s EU strategic digital autonomy

Cybersecurity has climb to the category of a major concern in Europe in 2019. The European Union has adopted a in Q1 a Cybersecurity Act and it is working in building up a Network of Cybersecurity Centers to boost up the Cybersecurity industry, that jointly with the existing NIS Directive defines an extending cybersecurity legal framework. There´s also an expanding network of institutions to take care of the Europeans Cybersecurity, that some people fear have overlapping powers and may itself be the seed for cybersecurity gaps.

It looks also that there are some rationale and evidence for these concerns. The Huawei affair promoted by the Trump administration has provoked the adoption of EU coordinated measures to reinforce cyber security in the forthcoming 5G networks. It would not be strange that in order to keep geopolitical balance that some EU coordinated cyber security measures around cloud services may be promoted after the suspicion around Amazon has been raised by the German government. But are all these concerns really about cyber security or are cyber security concerns the proxy for other bigger concern?

The described cyber security concerns reflects not only policy-makers worries about trusted digital services, it reflects that Europe has lost any possible control of the digitalisation of its economy and society. The main EU networks manufacturers are Chinese, the most popular digital services among European citizens and companies are provided by US companies and there are not any popular end-user device designed and build within the Union borders. European companies have been totally wiped out of the list of the main tech companies, none of them are in the list of the 20 most valuable Internet companies or the top 10 electronics manufacturers.

The debate on EU cyber security strategy should be the tip of an even more important debate: EU strategic digital autonomy. Although it is still a concept on the making, the usual definition of the term "digital strategic autonomy" are the capabilities to protect its digital sovereignty. Setting up this EU digital strategic autonomy should be one of the goals of the forthcoming European Commission.

Europe has been successful in one of these capabilities to protect its digital sovereignty, the regulation of the digital space. Without any doubt, the European model of a regulated cyberspace has overrun the US laissez-faire model and it is behind the call for regulation of the digital giants. However, it maybe a temporary victory without if the EU is not able to build up the enivronment where tech champions can flourish in a quick manner. 

Although ethics and European values should be at the center of European digital policy, there are not alone the decisive factor for catching-up US and China in the tech race. As Daniel Castro, ITIF vice president, wisely remember "You can have the more ethical race car driver, but if his car is not faster, you are going to lose". EU policy papers are beginning to be flooded of terms as Ethic AI or human-center data economy, but we should recognize that we are are definitively lagging behind and bet on policies for creating a EU fabric of digital firms. 

The building up of the EU strategic digital autonomy start with choosing the areas to compete with the other blocs. We should forget about Europe as a global digital competitor, neither US or China compete in every area. Although there are basic areas where Europe has to develop its own capabilities (AI, 5G or cyber security), the competition on services should be more focused, for instance forgetting about B2C and giving the battle in the digitalisation of transport or health.

The second step is creating a toolbox for promoting the development and scale up of companies in the selected areas. Europe has accumulated a set of best practices that should be connected in a coherent digital policy in order to help digital companies to flourish. The promotion of the digital talent in the nordic countries, the development of an effective high-speed connectivity policy in Spain, the promotion of digital entrepreunership in the United Kingdom or the boost towards Industry 4.0 are some of the successful models that may be replicated  in the other EU countries taking into account its own specificities. 

Beyond the toolbox to create and scale up companies, it is important to promote the connection and the joining of efforts among them. Both the big and small ones. This should be the main space for the European Commission efforts, with a wise use of the MFF instruments with a mix of the definition of Airbus-like projects in some services areas, the creation of funding instruments based on public-private collaboration and the elimination of barriers for digital enterpreuners mobility across Europe.

Digitalisation should be one of the central policies of the next European Commission. Europe is not only on the brink of losing definitively the tech race, it is on the brink of losing its strategic digital autonomy, and therefore its capability to be influent in the XXI century global policy. To avoid this destiny, we need to create a fabric of digital firms capable to compete in basic digital technologies and key services areas where competition is a real option. Maybe, it is the last call for a digital future in Europe.

miércoles, 1 de mayo de 2019

"Travellers in the Third Reich" - Juila Boyd

Travellers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday PeopleTravellers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday People by Julia Boyd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fifteen years ago I read many books about the rise and fall of the Third Reich and their main characters of that dark period of European history, such as Kershaw´s biography on Hitler or the narration of that regime written by Michael Burleigh. I thought I would never pick for reading any other book related with that epoch until I saw in a shelf "Travellers in the Third Reich", but the promise of a narrative of the period trough the eyes of ordinary people was enough to convince me.

The book span Germany's history from 1919 to 1945 giving the testimonies of a collection of people who travelled those years for pleasure or business across the country, the majority of them from Britain and USA but also from places as remote as China. The selection of travelers done by the author includes people from many different backgrounds, from upper class and aristocrats to sportsmen, from religious ministers to journalists. This variety ensures a 360º perspective of what the world thought at that time of nazism and the list of events and milestones that paved the way to the Second World War.

From the pages of the book emerge a shameful view of Germany and the anglo-saxon world of that period. On one hand, a country fully anti-semitic with few exceptions that cheered and received warmly the measures to restraint jewish influence and economic power. On the other hand, a sympathetic view of the nazi regime shared by many British and American people that saw Hitler as a providencial man for Germany. In particular, the book is the accusation testimony of how the majority of anglo-saxon people chose not to see what was happened in Germany until it was too late.

However, examples of brave behavior may also be found in the book. Foreigners that help Jewish people to escape from the Reich putting their life at risk or journalist that desperately warned the world about the real face of the regime behind the image of being the lever for the courageous renaissance of a defeated country. It is easy today to be shocked by the fact that these people were a minority, but perhaps we should ask ourselves how many times we choose not to take such a brave stance about what daily happened around us.

From time to time, it is good to remember what happened in Europe between the two world wars. There are plenty of lessons of that period to be learned in order to avoid the repetition of that tragedy. Reading Boyd´s book is an usual but valuable manner to revisit that bleak period.

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