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Internet Governance 23 August 2018

There’s a Techlash. The G20 Should Listen.

Constance Bommelaer de Leusse
By Constance Bommelaer de LeusseArea Vice President, Institutional Relations

The Internet is at risk. Once thought of as the global equalizer, opening doors for communication, work opportunities, commerce and more – the Internet is now increasingly viewed with skepticism and wariness. We are witnessing a trend where people fare feeling let down by the technology they use. Fueled by unease and uncertainty about the growing scope of threats to security and privacy that come with an always-on, tech-driven world, people are now looking for ways to disconnect and are placing greater emphasis on values and human interaction.

The way we live our lives is now inextricably linked to the Internet – which is estimated to contribute US$6.6 trillion a year, or 7.1 percent of total GDP in the G20 countries by 2020. In developing nations, that digital economy is growing steadily by 15 to 25 percent a year. Yet the Internet essentially is under attack. Large scale data breaches, uncertainties about how our data is being used and monetized, cybercrime, surveillance and other online threats are impacting Internet users’ trust. We are at an important crossroads for the Internet and its healthy development is at stake.

It is our collective duty to find a response to the current “techlash.” It should be a G20 priority to reinject hope into technological innovation: by putting people, their rights, and needs first. The fact that over 100 organizations are calling on the leaders attending the G20 Digital Economy Ministerial Meeting on 23-24 August to commit to putting people at the center of the digital future, only highlights the urgency. While the G20 will address important topics such as connectivity, future of work and education, they must not ignore topics that are of great concern to people across the world: security and privacy.

The guarantee of privacy and security is critical to building trust in technological innovation and the Internet in particular. It must be in the interest of the G20 as a global economic powerhouse to address these issues, so that our digital societies can continue to thrive. Recent, high-profile data breaches make it clear that we must hold companies accountable when they use invasive advertising techniques, manipulate user choice, don’t keep our personal data safe, or share our data without permission. Similarly, we must remind governments that hasty regulation to some of these abuses may be misguided.

Lack of end-to-end encryption, backdoors for law enforcement, platform and network shutdowns, all put people at risk – and significantly erode trust. People should also be better empowered to have more control over their data and the ways in which it is used by both governments and the private sector. G20 members should commit to protect any and all users’ information, whether or not they are citizens of a G20 country.

No government will be able to address challenges posed by networked societies alone or in isolation. In trying to do so, they risk damaging this global public resource for all. G20 leaders have a historical opportunity to protect the development of the Internet. They can set an example by underscoring why the Internet is so important to evolving societies, and why countries need to be better curators of this vital resource.

As we prepare for the 2018 G20 summit in Argentina, we also recall words from the Argentine President, Mauricio Macri, that to tackle the challenges of the 21st century we must “put the needs of people first.” Our future must build on a healthy Internet, a web we want. One that is trusted and empowers people regardless of economic resources or demographics. We must commit to the Internet as a global public resource, which bridges divides and helps us come together.

The techlash is real. And it is questioning the benefits of the digital society. We need to reset our relationship with technology and prioritize the needs of people. The G20 can play its part in assuming responsibility – by taking people’s concerns seriously, starting with privacy and security.

Cathleen Berger, Mozilla
Constance Bommelaer de Leusse, The Internet Society
Nnenna Nwakanma, The Web Foundation

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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