May 6th 2021, 12:00pm-1:30pm ET
Platform Governance: Media Policy or Telecoms Regulation as Guide?
Chair: Dwayne Winseck (Carleton University)
Dwayne Winseck (Carleton) will organize a panel that challenges the impulse amongst many observers to reach for media policy as a touchstone for platform regulation. This panel will ask, instead, whether telecoms regulation might offer a better guide; telecommunications regulation has a long legacy of bright light rules governing market dominance, data and privacy protection, and common technical standards for interfaces and interconnection that open up the blackbox of complex technical systems. Telecoms regulation can ensure that freedom of expression and other normative goals triumph over those of the owners of complex technical systems in regulating illegal content.
Dwayne Winseck (Carleton University)
Paper Title: Digital Platforms are Not Media Companies: Telecoms Regulation as a Guide to Platform Regulation
Public inquiries around the world are casting a critical eye on the economic and political clout of digital platforms, asking what---if anything---should be done to bring them under effective regulatory control. They are also blamed for destroying the commercial basis of journalism and entertainment media and for their corrosive impact on democracy and public culture. This paper acknowledges that the digital behemoths have considerable power but argues that such assertions are often overwrought and based on shaky evidence. Further, critics who point to the effects of "harmful content" and disinformation campaigns to justify calls to regulate platforms as media companies too often conflate reach with impact. Ultimately, this paper argues that rather than turning to media regulation, the focus of telecoms regulation on constraining market power, unbundling control over networks from control over content, enforcing common technical standards in order to open up the blackbox of complex technical systems and putting people's communication rights first over the owners of these complex technical systems might be a better guide.
David Nieborg (University of Toronto)
Paper Title: Platform governance and cultural production
The increasingly central role of major platform companies---Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon---in the media industries, as well as other parts of the economy, has triggered renewed concerns about media concentration. We argue that platforms signal a qualitative shift that cannot be measured in economic terms alone. Similar to their integrated incumbent counterparts, platform companies not only host cultural products, but also a variety of services, including app stores, cloud hosting, and digital advertising. We suggest that it is through these "infrastructural platform services" that cultural producers and a wide range of other third parties become dependent on platform companies. Thus, to study digital dominance, we need to investigate how such relations of interdependence take shape in processes of cultural production. We suggest how this can be done through a careful examination of financial data as well as platform documentation on application programming interfaces (APIs), software development kits (SDKs), and user and developer agreements. The authors of this paper are David Nieborg with Thomas Poell and José van Dijck.
Jonathan Obar (York University)
Paper Title: The Governance of Social Media: Revisiting the Special Issue
In 2015, I co-edited a special issue of Telecommunications Policy entitled “The Governance of Social Media”. Contributors to the issue included some of the leading scholars of internet governance, including Laura DeNardis, Philip Napoli, Milton Mueller and others. Now almost five-years since the issue was published, many of the ideas presented require revisiting. Beginning with the editorial, questions about whether new law or regulation is necessary, or whether existing policy is useful will introduce the discussion. Certainly in the privacy context it is clear that calls for the former are growing, while evidence of the latter wanes. To help reveal this particular platform governance challenge, the contribution “Internet Governance by Social Media Platforms”, by DeNardis and Hackl is revisited, and their argument that platforms, primarily via design and policy choices demonstrate the strongest examples of pragmatic-while-problematic internet governance. Expanding upon the problems identified by DeNardis and Hackl, Philip Napoli’s contribution “Social Media and the Public Interest” will also be revisited, emphasizing how traditional regulatory concepts might guide new approaches to policy in an attempt to move regulators away from problematic self-governance models. The extent to which the public interest concept can be mapped onto the current internet governance debate will be considered, suggesting that while normative regulatory philosophy borrowed from the broadcasting era might be useful, challenges of definition and jurisdiction are problematic. Lastly, Milton Mueller’s contribution on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which directly addresses the internet governance role of platforms, will connect the commentary on the future of platform governance to the fake news challenge. This will attempt to present another example of how the debate over the limitations and possibilities of platforms in the internet governance space must be clarified.
Dana Cramer (University of Calgary)
Paper Title: Internets: The changing relevance of Internet Protocols in next generation broadband networks
In 2020 two events dramatically shaped the evolution of internet infrastructure development. The first, as obvious, was the COVID-19 pandemic. The transition of work from home led to the high awareness of the public’s need for broadband infrastructure as critical infrastructure. The second event, which has not been publicized other than in pockets of information technologies circles, is the submission and lobbying campaign to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) by China for a ‘New Internet Protocol.’ The ‘New Internet Protocol’ as it is named under ITU submission filings, is a proposal for a new set of technical standards for the ongoing development of 5G/6G—and so on—broadband technologies. This new suite of protocols would not work in tandem with the existing Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) suite which the internet is currently built on, but instead will make an entirely new internet for this next generation network. Hence, our global networked society is on the cusp of ‘internets’ opposed to a singular internet. Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications manufacturer, which increasingly has had their 5G equipment banned in Five Eyes countries due to privacy and spying concerns, has responded to worries over the ‘New Internet Protocol’ with a marketing campaign of ‘ManyNets.’ In the ManyNets campaign, they have argued for the need of a new suite of technical specifications of THz data transfers for meeting the needs of a 2030 internet environment, as well have attacked journalists reporting on this manner. This presentation will identify the changing landscape of the internet’s infrastructure and the position Canada may take in protecting our domestic interest through the international internet standardization process.
Lianrui Jia (University of Toronto Scarborough)
Paper Title: Disrupting platform power: regulation of Apple App Store in China
App stores, such as Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store, are key sites where digital platforms operationalize their power in deciding what gets distributed, under what conditions, and to whom. They constitute infrastructural platform services that facilitate the circulation of cultural content by setting the price, terms and conditions of distribution, and the technical standards of privacy protection (Greene & Shilton, 2018; van Dijck, Nieborg, & Poell, 2019). Because of this gatekeeping role, app stores are key sites to study platform governance. They serve as the vital techno-economic infrastructure upon which digital platforms, such as Google, Apple, and Tencent, have built their ecosystems (Dieter et al., 2019).
China has a lucrative and one of the largest app markets in terms of app developers, app users and app store operators. To give a sense of their economic might, in 2018, China’s market for apps reached $23.6 billion, nearly one fifth of the world’s total (iResearch, 2018). China’s app stores are markedly different from the West. With Google’s exit from mainland China in 2010, China is one of the few markets where Google Play and Apple App Store do not form a tight duopoly. Instead, China’s app store market is much more diverse and chaotic, featuring device manufacture app stores (Huawei, Xiaomi, Vivo), app stores owned and operated by internet companies (Tencent MyApp, 91 Wireless, Qihoo) and telecommunication operators (China Telecom and China Mobile). With the emergence of such a dynamic market, the Chinese government has taken steps to devise a holistic regulatory framework of app stores, including a set of licensing rules, app registration and audit, as well as data localization.
This paper examines the regulation of U.S-owned and -operated Apple App Store in China. In particular, this paper looks at how state power intersects and interjects platform power in app store regulation through analyzing three key processes: app review, app takedown, and data localization. It is argued that the regulation of Apple App Store in China crystalizes the contestations and clashes between the expansion of U.S platform power on the one hand, and the Chinese national regime of internet regulation and governance agenda, on the other. Analyzing how Apple App Store is governed both by platform owners and government institutions in China showcases how platform governance is localized in various jurisdictions and global geopolitics. In sum, this paper contributes to a multileveled understanding of platform power (from a company level to geopolitical level) (Nieborg, van Dijck, & Poell, 2019) as they expand beyond their respective geopolitical spheres.