Digital sovereignty is set to become a key theme of 2021, as more nations look at how they can curb the power of the major tech giants, and protect the personal information of their own citizens.
The recent Capitol riots in the US have once again sparked new questions around the influence of digital platforms, which many nations have been grappling with over the past few years. Add to this the concerns around apps sharing data with foreign governments, and it seems likely that a time of reckoning will soon come, and new, regional laws will need to be implemented in order for platforms to maintain their operations.
But is that workable? Can the platforms create region-specific laws, and adhere to them effectively, in order to meet such demand?
Unique requirements like Europe's GDPR certainly add a level of operational complexity, which would be better served by implementing over-arching rules, that meet the varying requirements of each nation.
But that, also, may not be possible - for example, right now, here's a look at just some of the restrictions and rule changes that the major tech platforms are working to align with:
- In Turkey, Twitter and Pinterest are facing new operating restrictions due to their failure to appoint local representatives in the region. Facebook and Google have met the new requirements, though some are concerned that the Turkish Government is seeking to monitor speech on social platforms by exerting pressure on local spokespeople.
- In India, the Indian Government has banned all Chinese originated apps, including TikTok, due to border disputes with the CCP. TikTok had over 200 million users at the time of the ban being announced back in June.
- In Australia, the Australian Government is pushing new regulations that would force Google and Facebook to pay for their use of content from Australian news publishers. The proposal - which makes little sense - has been strongly opposed by both companies, while recently, the US Government also voiced its concerns about the framework.
- In Europe, MEPs are considering sanctions against big tech companies if they fail to attend an upcoming hearing to discuss tax and competition policy. The hearing is designed to help structure new, fairer operating conditions for the evolving digital marketplace.
As you can see, there's a range of mixed concerns here, and challenges for the major platforms to meet.
Is it even possible to meet all of these requirements? Will the major platforms be able to continue operating in each nation if they don't?
And this is before we look at the potential for increased regulation of tech platforms in the US under the incoming Biden administration. For the last four years, tech platforms have sought to placate President Trump, which many would argue is what lead to the recent unrest. But now, with the Trump administration gone, will the new US Government impose additional operating restrictions, or mandate new laws in relation to content moderation?
And if so, how would that work - and would they appease other regions as well?
Increasingly, it seems like the major tech platforms will be tasked with meeting tougher regional restrictions, which will effectively change how they operate in each jurisdiction. But maybe, with a more uniform approach, there could be a way to meet these various concerns, which would address such problems from a more global perspective.
Paying local taxes seems like a big one, with most of the tech platforms still funneling their earnings through tax havens in each region. But then again, adhering to varying local laws on content is virtually impossible to approach in any uniform way.
But you can expect these calls to keep coming - the recent events in the US have underlined what we've all seen around the world over the past four years, that online platforms have now become increasingly influential in democracy, truth, information transfer and societal shifts.
That has implications across the entirety of life as we know it - and while that may seem like an overstatement, it's clear that digital platforms are only becoming more influential over time. And they can already fuel an attempt to overthrow the US Government.
Do you think other regions will be willing to wait and see if the same happens to them?
There are many implications here, and you can expect the calls for more localized approaches to digital regulation to continue as the platforms themselves work to meet these evolving requirements.
This will have implications for data collection, advertising, marketing - all operations related to the digital sector. Already, we're seeing changes in how data-tracking will be enabled in an effort to meet evolving demand. That could become more pressing, putting more onus on individual businesses to establish connection with their audiences direct.
Certainly, this will be a key element to monitor over the coming months.