Platform and data neutrality: Access to content

8 Jun 2018 02:00h

Event report

This session was moderated by Mr Vladimir Radunović (Cybersecurity and E-diplomacy Programmes Director, DiploFoundation) and it addressed the challenges related to platform neutrality and discrimination in platform content. 

It was noted by some participants during the discussions that the debate around Internet neutrality should go beyond Internet Service Providers (ISPs), considering that different bias in online platforms can also lead to discriminatory treatment of their users. The lack of platform neutrality is particularly alarming due to the platform’s worldwide reach and dominance. 

Mr Michael J Oghia (Independent Consultant) pointed out that the goal of online platforms and private companies is to optimise the user experience. Consequently, they are less prone to disclose their algorithms, even in cases of possible discrimination, considering that algorithms and technology are protected by intellectual property rights. Someone from the audience counter argued, mentioning that when private companies reach so many individuals, on a global level, they should have some sort of accountability vis-à-vis our society. The responsibility of private companies has existed for a long time and could be used as model to reflect the limits between public interests and commercial ones.

Mr Arandjel Bojanović (President, Internet Society Serbia), mentioned that Facebook conducted an experiment in six different countries called ‘news feed’, which aimed to show to the users the stories that most mattered to them. Several journals and independent media complained that the visibility of their pages dropped massively. This example led to the following question: What are the limits for a private company to change their policies inadvertently? 

It was discussed that private companies need to have a minimum standard of fairness. Some in-house principles could be implemented to reach platform neutrality: (1) To put the users first (as the main driving force); and (2) Inclusiveness. Furthermore, it was mentioned that monopoly and transparency are concepts that impact platform neutrality. For example, it was argued that four of the first eight social media in the world belong to the same company. Because of that, platforms should not abuse their monopolistic position regarding neutrality. Further, more transparency would help to enforce competition law and allow people to make informed choices.