Digital Rights Archive Newsletter - First edition
If the 2018 Facebook-Cambridge Analytica revelations led to a popular “techlash,” the past 12 months can be seen as the year of tech’s reckoning. Meta/Facebook’s collapse in value was a humbling comedown for a company that was previously seen as an unstoppable global force; the cryptocurrency bubble burst spectacularly; Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter has people considering the previously unimaginable possibility of a post-social-media world.
More than anything, the events of the past year have served as a potent reminder that tech in all its guises does not exist separate from society, and that the social-technological tension works both ways. Tech issues are social issues, and social issues increasingly have an unavoidable technological dimension. This tension is clearly on display in the first edition of the Digital Rights Archive Newsletter. From cultural policy to finance to labour policy, we see in these podcasts, reports, videos and books the processes of construction of what the International Political Economy scholar Susan Strange would call “bargains”: the negotiation of the basic rules governing 21st century life.
At times, the pull of the digital revolution creates new challenges around the expansion of new business models, and as Fassi-Fihri argues in her book, new rights.
While the technologies and players may be novel, many underlying issues remain the same as they always were. Should the government continue to play its decades-long role in shaping cultural policy, or should we leave it to the (platform-dominated) market? Should companies be allowed to despoil the environment in pursuit of profit? How should financial instruments like cryptocurrencies be treated? How can we maintain competition law in situations where innovations can give rise to increased monopoly pressures? How can workers in both the Global North and the Global South improve their situation?
The very breadth of these works serves as an argument that understanding public policy today requires a sound appreciation for the digital dimensions that they highlight, even as they make clear that digital policy only has meaning within the specific contexts in which digital technologies are deployed, be it, say, culture or finance.
Since this is the inaugural Digital Rights Archive newsletter, it’s worth saying a few words about the archive itself. The articles featured in this newsletter, selected from the Digital Rights Archive itself, offer some starting points on these important and complex issues. If you find these articles useful, there’s a lot more at the Digital Rights Archive.
The Archive is designed to provide policymakers and citizens with a solid knowledge base for understanding digital policy issues. Unlike automated services like Google Scholar, the works included in the Digital Rights Archive, as well as in The Syllabus project of which it is an offshoot, are selected via “artisanal automation”: using algorithms to scour the web, with the best pieces hand-selected for inclusion in the archive. Think of it like algorithmic collection combined with expert curation, automation used to augment, not replace, human action, a small challenge to established orthodoxies at the end of a tumultuous year.
Canada’s Battle over Internet Streamers: A Cancon Story of Freedom of Expression, Algorithms and Cultural PolicyMichael Geist | Law Bytes
This lecture traces the development of Canadian broadcast policy as applied to the Internet, and recounts how Bill C-11 – a relatively uncontroversial bill when first introduced – came to spark a firestorm that is still raging.
Gig Work in a Precarious Economy: Comparative and Canadian PerspectivesYoungrong Lee, Luna X. Li, Steven Mesaros, Gerard di Trolio | Global Labour Research Centre, York University
Detailing the work of delivery couriers' unions in Seoul and Toronto, the possibilities of applying 'affirmative action' to algorithmic discrimination, and the lessons to draw from worker displacement trends originating in the 1980s.
Private Digital Cryptoassets as Investment?: Bitcoin Ownership and Use in Canada, 2016-2021Daniela Balutel, Walter Engert, Christopher Henry, Kim P. Huynh, Marcel C. Voia | Bank of Canada
In 2021, Canadians’ awareness of Bitcoin hovered at around 90 percent, while ownership more than doubled over the two prior years to reach 13 percent. Among its other insights, this report finds that Canadian Bitcoin owners in 2021 were most likely to be male, aged 18 to 34 years old, and in possession of a university degree or high income. This group largely sees Bitcoin as an investment.
Through the Looking Glass: AI, Mergers and the Role of Competition Law in Digital GovernanceJennifer Quaid | SSRN
To help consider the ways Canadian law should respond to the realities of the new economy, this paper focuses on AI's economic inputs to examine how AI incentives and business practices are interacting with traditional models of assessing market power's impact on competition.
La blockchain: Un commun au service exclusif de l’appropriation?Patrick Barban | Cahiers de la recherche sur les droits fondamentaux
In its functioning, blockchain should be considered as itself a common pool: it gathers and governs a community of validators, who in turn manage public information and potential computing power for a shared purpose. In its uses, however, it is more difficult to describe blockchain as a common-pool resource, given that it is fundamentally meant to allow for exclusivity in assets and often leads to speculation.
Tech Turmoil Complicates Canada’s Policing of the Online WorldIan Austen | The New York Times
The government has four bills before Parliament meant to rein in tech giants. At the same time, the industry is retrenching. It is possible that companies like Meta and Twitter will soon stabilize and normal relations will return. But there is also widespread concern that the latter, at least, will collapse. Either way, Parliament can expect to shortly find itself with laws that are both new and out of date.
Les droits et libertés du numérique: Des droits fondamentaux en voie d'élaboration: Étude comparée en droits français et américainRym Fassi-Fihri | LGDJ
This book argues that the digital revolution has transformed fundamental rights and freedoms to the point that we need new categories. It details an emergent set of fundamental rights which have been enshrined in French and US jurisprudence, and are exclusively dedicated to the digital sphere.
Has the U.S. Big Tech Model Spread to Europe?Josh Ryan-Collins, Ilan Strauss | UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose
Investigating how US and European digital platforms respectively create and extract value, as well as how these firms contribute — negatively or positively — towards entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystems in Europe.
Big Tech’s New Headache: Data Centre Activism Flourishes Across the WorldSebastián Lehuedé | LSE
Groups opposing the construction of polluting and water-intensive data centres have begun to emerge in different regions. Everywhere they appear, these local activists are laying bare Big Tech’s profoundly problematic record on community and the environment.
The Political Economy of Digital CapitalBridget Kenny, Angela Akorsu, Sunil Mani
Pulling together lessons from Ghana and South Africa, as well as from the whole of Asia's manufacturing industry, this policy dialogue considers the future of workers and inequality in the Global South.