Beyond the next gig: Unpacking development, rights, and economic futures in the age of platforms

20 Dec 2017 10:45h - 12:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 12th Internet Governance Forum]

Ms Amrita Gurumurthy, Executive Director of IT for Change (ITfC) opened the session by looking deeper at issues of cloud platformisation. She said that platforms are not mere bridges or intermediaries but they are constitutive. Although the Internet economy or the platform economy is a small part of the economy, increasingly, it has more power to control. An example would be Alibaba’s cloud business, which is being called the new retail strategy, offering end-to-end services in organising inventory to smart production management to logistics management.

Mr Mark Graham, Professor of Internet Geography at the Oxford Internet Institute spoke about labour in the gig economy and highlighted four main issues: First and second, the world being increasingly defined by labour surplus and by more connectivity. Third the invisible labour that increasingly needs to grease the wheels of contemporary economy, and the lastly outsourcing to platforms. He cited examples on the very little bargaining power of workers. Most of the demands for a lot of this platform work comes from a handful of countries in the global north but the supply is from all over the world. He said here is a huge imbalance in the supply and the demand using the Philippines as an example. The Philippines has 221,000 people registered but only 32,000 people who managed to find any work meaning 189,000 people who could not find work, but are still looking. 

Ms Vivian Munoz, Coordinator, Development, Innovation and Intellectual Property Programme at the South Centre,  explained that though we have greater connectivity and greater sharing, the role of the private sector is increasingly in partnership with the public sector being seen as quite efficient. She said that on the other hand we are reminded that our growing international community, that we wanted to build, has not advanced at the pace we would have liked. Muniz said we have huge inequalities in two dimensions. In the social dimension, we can see many platforms but at the same time, we see some local communities that are weakening. In the economic dimension, we have a model of economic organisations that platforms are part of, but fundamentally with no significant change in the economic system. She said we are still seeing doing what normal markets are doing. The hyperglobalisation trend leads us to think that we must access global markets, but do we really have global markets? Do we have full participation as individuals and communities?

Mr Luca Belli, Senior Researcher at the Center for Technology and Society (CTS) of Fundação Getulio Vargas Law School, discussed the non-transparent system in the current terms and conditions. He said the user bargaining power is zero because the user can only accept the conditions which are defined by another entity. In another study Belli did last year on terms of service and human rights, he demonstrated that almost 40% of the platforms which were analysed, had provisions stating that they can unilaterally modify the provisions and they are not obliged to inform the user.

A representative from Third World Network discussed the last WTO meeting on digital commerce. She said the existing trade rules in the WTO can restrict certain types of regulation platforms and if you have liberalised some service sectors at the WTO or in a free trade agreement, then you cannot restrict the amount of companies providing these type of services or the amount of housing that each one has. She said that there is still a big debate over definition, using AirBnB as and example, and whether it is an accommodation or a computer related service. Uber is a similar example and if it is a transport service or a computer service. She also touched upon the privacy of personal data on platforms such as the use of HTTPS to make sure that your credit card details cannot be stolen.  While some governments require this , eCommerce at the World Trade Organisation restricts your ability to do this.

By Shita Laksmi