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The world needs a new approach to enable as many people as possible to access digital data across borders, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said on Wednesday.

This should help maximize development gains and ensure their equitable distribution, the agency said, launching its Digital Economy 2021 report.

A new approach is also expected to enable data sharing on a global scale, increase the development of global digital “public goods”, increase confidence and reduce uncertainty in the digital economy, UNCTAD added.

The report stressed that the new global system must help avoid further fragmentation of the Internet, address policy challenges resulting from the dominant positions of digital platforms and reduce existing inequalities.

“It is more important than ever to embark on a new path for digital and data governance,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in his preface to the report.

“The current fragmented data landscape… can create more space for substantial damage from privacy breaches, cyber attacks and other risks,” he added.

New governance

Digital data is playing an increasingly important role as an economic and strategic resource, a trend reinforced by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the report.

For example, sharing health data globally is of “critical importance” as it can help countries fight epidemics and, for research purposes, in the development of effective vaccines: ” issue of digital governance can no longer be postponed, ”said the UNCTAD secretary. General Rebeca Grynspan said.

“The global data economy calls for moving away from the silo approach to adopt a more holistic and coordinated global approach,” added UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Isabelle Durant.

New data body

UNCTAD proposes the formation of a new United Nations coordinating body, focused on the assessment and development of global digital and data governance.

The body should seek to address the under-representation of developing countries and provide sufficient policy space to ensure that countries with different levels of digital readiness and capabilities can truly benefit from it.

Different approaches

The report notes that there are now widely divergent approaches to data governance, with three major players: the United States, China and the European Union (EU).

Essentially, the US approach focuses on the control of data by the private sector, the Chinese model emphasizes the control of data by the government, while the EU favors the control of data by individuals, on the basis of fundamental rights and values.

“The lack of a global data governance framework hampers the ability of countries to take advantage of the digital economy,” said UNCTAD Director of Technology and Logistics Shamika N. Sirimanne. “It also hampers their ability to protect people’s privacy from private sector and government data use and to address law enforcement and national security concerns.”

The new approach would allow countries to better use data for the public good, agree on rights and principles, develop standards and increase international cooperation.

The report also highlighted that the governance of cross-border data flows is at an impasse due to divergent views and positions on their regulation.

The proposed new approach to global data governance could help develop a middle ground, he said, noting that current regional and international regulatory frameworks tend to be either too narrow or too geographically limited.

Data Division

The report warned that a data divide is emerging, with many developing countries becoming mere providers of raw data to global digital platforms while having to pay for the digital intelligence generated from it. their data.

Only 20% of people in least developed countries (LDCs) use the Internet, and when they do, it’s usually at relatively low download speeds and relatively expensive, according to the report.

He also noted that the average speed of mobile broadband is about three times higher in developed countries than in LDCs. And while up to eight in 10 internet users shop online in several developed countries, only less than one in 10 do so in many LDCs, he added.

The United States and China dominate

The United States and China are the first to mine the data, according to the report. They account for 50% of the world’s large-scale data centers, the world’s highest 5G adoption rates, 70% of the world’s top artificial intelligence (AI) researchers, and 94% of all funding for companies. AI startups.

The two countries also account for around 90% of the market capitalization of the world’s largest digital platforms, and during the pandemic, their profits and market capitalization values ​​have increased significantly.

Business growth

The report warns that it has become increasingly difficult to consider regulations on cross-border data flows without also considering the governance of digital businesses.

These platforms continue to expand their own data ecosystems and increasingly control all stages of the global data value chain.

The biggest digital platforms, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet (Google), Facebook, Tencent and Alibaba, are increasingly investing in all parts of the global data value chain, according to the report.

Amazon, for example, has invested some $ 10 billion in satellite broadband, while Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft were the main acquirers of AI startups between 2016 and 2020.

Four major platforms (Alibaba, Amazon, Google and Microsoft) accounted for 67% of global cloud infrastructure service revenue in the last quarter of 2020.

The report’s findings will feed into discussions at the 15th quadrennial UNCTAD conference to be held online from October 3-7.

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