The United Nations of Data – an interesting idea

One of the big problems of the digital economy is unity. Everyone is out for themselves which could mean no one wins.

What we’re talking about here are the rules – the legislation and regulation which defines how a company can operate in the connected economy. There sure are plenty of them, but how many actually make consistent sense? If you are a company based in the UK, what do you have to do to trade legally in Mexico? Or how about remaining compliant in Germany? The differences might not be massive, but any variation is a headache.

One idea that came up at the Nordic Digital Business Summit in Helsinki was that of an United Nations of Data. An international governing body that oversees and dictates the rules for the connected economy. It creates a neutral set of rules defining data protection, ownership, usage and privacy rules around the world. One set of rules for everyone. Sounds like a good idea, but maybe a bit too soon.

The digital society is, in theory, borderless. The blue sky thinking idea is that you could start a business in Manchester, which could be monetized in any part of the world. This is the service orientated economy which many countries are striving for. But of course you need rules, and all of these rules are slightly different, with many are based on foundations which are not suitable for the new world. This is down to two reasons.

Firstly, the rules being created are based on legislation created in a bygone era. Governments around the world are building on communications acts which were built for the analogue economy. Times have changed, data does not necessarily have a residence, the concept of ownership is still murky and the world is becoming increasingly borderless. The old rules don’t work anymore.

Secondly, the people making the rules don’t get it. In fact, many of us in the technology industry still don’t get it. The internet economy is still young. We’re still finding out what can be done. How can career politicians, who don’t come from a technology background, hope to create a framework which provide protection, but also the flexibility for innovation to thrive.

These are also individuals who have a bias. They are born in the analogue age, and by no fault of their own, have the mindset which limits them to their own national ambitions. Maintaining sovereignty can create prejudice, protectionism and ultimately damage the long-term goal of openness. This is what is limiting the progression of the digital community.

There is also the trend to favour big companies. These are the ones which can employ expensive lawyers to negotiate around cumbersome legislation and regulation, or hire employees to ensure compliance is various territories.

But political rhetoric is to support the little man, the SMEs which will lead the nation into the exciting digital world. These are the people who are being crippled by complex rules in their own borders, and prevented from scaling internationally because of nuances in legislation.

Unfortunately, the very companies which are being held back is where innovation will arise from. The big companies thrive in the status quo, they have established businesses after all, so why would they want to embrace change. To encourage innovation, everything must be done to support the little man.

“What we need today is a super-national body which creates adaptable rules for the digital economy,” said eBay’s Associate General Counsel Stefan Krawezyk.

An international body, which is not defined by one nationality, populated by those who are not burdened by the success of the analogue age would be perfect. Unfortunately it is likely to be nothing more than a dream for the moment. The people in charge want to stay in charge, and the people making money want to continue to make money.

Maybe it will happen when the next generation comes into power, the ones who were born into the internet, revelled in the borderless community and are open to the ideas of different cultures. This generation is accepting of change, and capable of creating the right ideas. Unfortunately, those in power are trying to take ownership of the digital community, which is a contradiction in itself.

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