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The digital age: Exploring the role of standards for data governance, artificial intelligence and emerging platforms

In the past 20 years, a series of new digital technologies, and the business models that they enable, have come to dominate much of the economy. This shift has created a host of novel challenges in areas as diverse as competition, privacy and labour rights. In response, there is growing consensus across society that the current under-governed character of these digital spaces needs to change. But even as the need for more effective governance grows, change will not be easy. Building governance mechanisms for the digital economy is a project that faces many obstacles. Most obviously, the global scope of digital technologies transcends traditional jurisdictional boundaries, making action at the national level difficult to sustain. Moreover, these challenges will only grow more acute as the emergence of even more powerful and novel technologies continues. Is there a role for standards-based solutions to help address these challenges? This report provides responses to this question with regards to three critical parts of the digital economy: Data governance: The emergence of “surveillance capitalism,” a digital business model focused on the collection and exploitation of users’ data, has raised many concerns (Zuboff, 2015). Specifically, security breaches like those at Equifax and Yahoo, and scandals like Facebook’s links to Cambridge Analytica, have raised questions regarding informed consent, data security, privacy, accountability and the ethical use of user data. Artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms: The use of AI and algorithms is spreading through society and the economy and replacing human actors in contexts as diverse as judicial sentencing, employee scheduling and the generation of consumer recommendations. The bases for algorithmic decisions often lack transparency, making it difficult to evaluate decisions’ alignment with human rights codes, labour laws or other governance frameworks. Digital firms are also increasingly using algorithms to set prices based on inputs such as a user’s postal code and their browsing history and in ways that may be undermining economic fairness. Digital platforms: The structural characteristics of digital platforms have helped to make these platforms useful and central to the digital economy. But these characteristics have also created significant power imbalances between platforms and different types of users. This is particularly so in cases where digital labour platforms serve as marketplaces for matching workers (e.g. drivers, hosts and freelancers) to consumers/clients. While they offer workers flexibility and new opportunities to earn income, the lack of labour standards governing these platforms means that work in the resulting