January 31, 2020

Searching for platform governance alternatives - our panel at CPDP2020 conference

At this year's CPDP conference, we organised a panel on the Shared Digital Europe vision and applying these principles to platform regulation. The program of this year's CPDP focused on artificial intelligence. Many of the panels dealt with algorithms, use of personal data or business practices that take place on online platforms. Our aim was to provide a high-level view that connects together these varied issues and proposes general regulatory solutions.

For the session, moderated by Alek Tarkowski from Centrum Cyfrowe, we invited Maud Sacquet from Mozilla, Joris van Hoboken from UvA and UvB and Michał Boni from the Wilfred Martins Center who were joined by Paul Keller, a member of our team.

We opened the panel with an introduction by Paul Keller, who reflected on the four principles of Shared Digital Europe, as they relate to platforms. We see the strengthening the commons and greater role of public institutions as rules that define the types of available alternatives for the platform ecosystem. Decentralisation and self-determination are in turn principles that determine how these alternative models could be attained.

Paul's main point was that we need to think beyond regulation of existing platforms and create policies that support alternative platforms. We need to start with alternative imaginations, and not just build a defensive mechanism that focuses on harm reduction.

Paul further highlighted the important conversation happening in Europe about the role of public institutions in the platform environment. Traditionally, public actors are seen as disrupting markets with their public services. This needs to change and the European tradition of publicly funded public broadcasters shows that especially in the field of media and communication there can be good reasons to support non market driven structures. When it comes to sharing economy ecosystems, public actors should take on the roles related to data governance in these ecosystems.

Maud Sacquet presented the approach of a company that builds an important service at a different level of the internet stack. And one that has a history of developing alternative services in the browser space.

Mozilla has recently embarked on a project titled "State of the Internet", which engages the whole company to define core internet challenges. The equivalents of regulatory solutions are developed through deliberate exploration and then production of product-based solutions. Surveillance economy was chosen by the company staff as the number 1 issue to tackle.

Maud also highlighted Mozilla's approach to regulation and accountability of platforms, based on four principles. Firstly, focus on procedural accountability means paying attention to internal trust and safety process, instead of on content regulation and suppression of illegal content. Scalability means that policies should go beyond a threshold approach and take into account size, scale and risk profile of a platform. Effective co-regulation means combining the ability of platforms to provide best service design with the need for democratic oversight, especially of technical aspects of platforms. Maud highlighted here the importance of transparency and access to data. Finally, rights need to be protected by design.

There is no "one size fits all approach" - Maud said. And European digital regulation usually ends up being built on exactly such principle. In order to avoid this, we need to make the voices and experiences of smaller platforms heard in the policy debate, instead of focusing on a dialogue with GAFA.

According to Joris van Hoboken, platform governance is the key issue that needs to be solved. Alternative models exist, but these cannot be found on dominant platforms. Furthermore, the regulatory debate needs to consider models of decentralised data processing, in which governance is much harder. Today, almost all discussions about obligations of platforms or duty of care have unilateral governance in mind.

Scalability should also not be a crucial factor - said Joris. Regulation of smaller platforms at local level can lead to diversity of regulatory models that would be beneficial. In such an ecosystem, smaller platforms could function, with varied and sustainable governance models that are a better fit to given local regulation.

Democratically designed data governance models are also necessary if we want to implement a "big data for public good" approach. This is a matter of responsible use of personal data that goes beyond discussing protection of individual rights, like privacy. Joris observes a shift towards structuring of rights through contract law, which makes it difficult to deal with collective rights of users. On the positive side, consumer protection is a framework of increasing importance.

Michał Boni supported our position that we need to shift from the Digital Single Market narrative to an alternative one. Instead of thinking in terms of market shareholders, we need to focus on stakeholders - said Michał. We need to ensure real participation by users in governance processes, shared responsibility and protection of fundamental rights.

Michał also pointed out in thinking about data governance on platforms we do not need to start from scratch. Europe's Reuse Directive - applicable to Public Sector Information - offers an approach to data governance that could be applied to platform data. A "reverse PSI" approach would allow to treat such data as a public good, and to neutralise the issue of ownership of data.

Finally, he pointed out that the Copyright Directive was a missed chance for a debate on a future media model that Europe needs. He argued that it is a debate that is still much needed.

We will continue in 2020 to host policy conversations about the Shared Digital Europe principles and their application. As Europe develops its new digital strategy and aims to introduce platform regulation of some sort, we hope that our vision will be reflected in new European policies.