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Symposium 2015

Solution for Brave New Media World? How the Internet Spreads Information Across the Globe

The Challenge

Hardly any recent innovation has contributed as much as the Internet to making the world become globalized. With this new medium, information about nearly any topic can be distributed at high speed an ...

Hardly any recent innovation has contributed as much as the Internet to making the world become globalized. With this new medium, information about nearly any topic can be distributed at high speed and low cost, worldwide. This development most obviously has fostered international economic integration by lowering transaction costs. Moreover, it facilitates the transnational organization of political interests by providing efficient channels for mass communication. Eventually, new media might thus contribute to improving the provision of global public goods by equally spreading information on costs and benefits of related policy measures around the world, and helping to formulate demand accordingly.

However, the mere availability of new media does not necessarily guarantee an equal spread of information and better informed consumers, as a consequence. In fact, new media shift the costs of filtering information onto the user, and differences in the ability to do so may even increase the knowledge gap between the informed and the uninformed, within and between countries. If users find it too expensive to search and validate information from different sources, they might rely on biased information that match their preconceptions instead, potentially fostering ideological lock-ins. If individual costs of processing information are prohibitively high, consumers might even consume less information.

So, paradoxically, the new media may spread information globally, without improving the average consumers' deeper understanding of worldwide economic and political developments. While access to new media is the prerequisite for spreading information more equally, it is the new media consumers' patterns of usage that eventually determine whether progress in the information and communication technologies will result in more or less informed consumers.

Promoting Digital Freedom Rights

Exchange of information and opinions on the Internet should be as free from economic interests and governmental influence as possible—thus allowing an unmonitored and open global process of developing opinions and making democratic decisions.

Reality is different, however. Large companies dictate the terms of handling and publishing information. Simultaneously, authoritarian governments are blocking free access to the Internet, censoring and surveilling those who seek access to information and freely want to express their opinion. Both state control and company-driven manipulation is based on the same technique: tracking and profiling users on the Internet.

Tracking data is used by companies to present personalized advertising, manipulating consumers and politically active citizens likewise. In this setting it is no surprise that economic lobbies seek to dominate the Internet for propaganda purposes thereby influencing entire industries, such as the car industry. States on the other hand use personalized data collected by private enterprises for their own political purposes.

Up to now there is little regulation of collecting personalized data on the Internet in most of the countries. Multinational groups face no difficulty at all when paying taxes in the most favorable country of their group presence—not necessarily where the business was made and the revenue generated. The same avoidance strategy can be observed when it comes to following national regulation, for example, copyright and privacy legislation. In order to control and restraint companies where they are evading national regulation, exploiting consumers and creative workers alike, there is a need of international regulation. To begin with, there should be a Charter of Digital Human Rights, promoted by the United Nations which should, among others, embody the following fundamental rights:

  • Freedom of Expression
  • Freedom of Information
  • Information Privacy and Data Protection
  • Intellectual Property of creative workers.

 

While such rights are promoted by the European Union, they are being hampered by the United States where both most of the data-centered companies and the most sophisticated state surveillance has its origin. Attempts to develop stronger multilateral binding rules were made after the revelations of Edward Snowden of mass surveillance organized by American NSA and British GCHQ. Unfortunately, those attempts have not had a positive outcome so far.

Instead, the European Union tries to get Internet sniffers under control. An important issue in this context is to break the monopoly of Google Search. Another crucial concern is the European Regulation on Privacy Protection. Some decisions of the European Court of Justice have bolstered those political and administrative activities, above all the actual verdict on the Safe Harbor Decision of 5 October of this year and the verdict on the right to be forgotten by Google Search from May 2014.

Those efforts have to be pursued as long as the US are neither willing to accept the existence of digital human rights nor to implement them. Europe, however, is the only region in the world that has sufficient economic and political strength to influence American politics and the economy in this respect. Convincing the US still leaves the task of bringing digital freedom rights to other parts of the world, like Russia or China, where these rights are totally ignored today.

Another approach to bring more freedom into the Internet world would be the implementation of democratic control by freedom of information legislation. The state and all of its administration have to be compelled to publish all data on request of any citizen except when privacy, competition or state security reasons contradict the publication of such data. In the German state of Hamburg, for instance, a register for state transparency has been established by regional law. Following this example, other state authorities should be encouraged to publish relevant information in the Internet.

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    Securing Access to Information by Securing Access to and Payment of Content Originators

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