April 9｜Professor Terry Flew Shed Light on Regulating Digital Giants
By Anita Lee
Professor Terry Flew, currently the president of the International Communications Association (ICA), shared his insights about platformized Internet and its governance at National Chengchi University (NCCU) on April 9th, 2019. The topic has triggered heated debate around the globe, especially after the Cambridge Analytic scandal and recent Christchurch terrorist attack. The public is now urging for the authorities to regulate digital tech companies, such as Google and Facebook.
During the speech Professor Flew addressed various topics in this realm, including how the internet has been platformized, how digital platforms change the landscape of digital media, and how they should operate under regulation.
According to Professor Flew, digital platforms are now adopting a socio-economic business model that creates value by organizing and structuring the interaction between its participants, rather than just an ICT product. For example, large digital companies, like Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple or Airbnb, are all making profits based on data and algorithms.
Professor Flew said that human experience generated online has now become raw material that can be processed through automated machines. Data collected on the platform can be used for customer service, advertising and profits. However, the use of data could be a double-edged sword. As the power of digital platform has been centralized by few private tech giant companies, governments and societies around the world are debating how to regulate digital platforms in order to tackle issues such as private data breach, the spread of misinformation, and platform owners’ failure to moderate contents.
Thus, regulatory topics include platform access, data privacy, data sovereignty, potential manipulation of consumers and market, and so on. To properly regulate them, Professor Flew pointed out several important factors that needed to be taken into consideration: the sheer size and scale of the platform, the multiple stakeholders they engaged, and the need to maintain the digital environment for participants to socially engage.
Being aware that the issue is certainly not a simple task to deal with, Professor Flew brought up the concept of soft law and co-regulation. In light of the nature of digital platforms, which are constantly evolving and have a complex ecosystem, he suggested that to regulate digital platform-based businesses is going to require flexible principles and a certain degree of a collaborative arrangement. The existence of a third party between the government and the regulated companies can be beneficial because public interests can be accounted for and the government can avoid accusations of infringement on business. In this way, it is hoped that digitization and regulation can co-exist in harmony.
The host of this speech and academic panel discussion, Professor Trisha Tsui Chuan Lin, Chair of International Research and Collaboration Committee from Taiwan Institute for Governance and Communication Research (TIGCR), had reached an agreement with Professor Flew to visit NCCU since they met at QUT digital media research centre in August last year.