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Geopolitics of Technology and the Hydrocarbon Status Quo

Anis H. Bajrektarevic

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The unrest in the Arab world, which has continued for over a year now, implies one important conclusion beyond any ongoing regional struggle for democracy: It is a reflection on the globally important technological, even more about a crucial geopolitical breakthrough – an escape from the logics of the hydrocarbon status quo, which – after Copenhagen 2009 and Durban 2011 – will fail again in Rio (Earth Summit 2012/Rio+20) later this year.

“No one governs innocently” – de Beauvoir noted in her 1947’s The Ethics of Ambiguity. After a lot of hot air, the disillusioning epilogue of the popular McFB revolt is more firearms and less confidence residing in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, as well as a higher (moral and environmental, socio–economic and political, psychological and security) carbon-energy price everywhere else. As if the confrontational nostalgia, perpetuated by intense competition over finite resources, in lieu of a real, far-reaching policy-making has prevailed again. Caught in the middle of its indigenous incapability and the global blind obedience to fossil carbon addiction, and yet enveloped in just another trauma, the Arab world and the wider Middle East theatre remains a hostage of a geopolitical and geo-economic chess-board mega drama. However, all that appears over-determined now was not necessarily pre-determined in the beginning.

A Grand Dilemma and the MENA
The MENA theatre is situated in one of the most fascinating locations of the world. It actually represents the only existing land corridor that connects 3 continents. Contributing some 6% to the total world population, its demographic weight is almost equal to that of the US (4,5%) and Russia (1,5%) combined. While the US and Russia are single countries, the MENA composite is a puzzle of several dozens of fragile pieces where religious, political, ideological, history-cultural, economic, social and territorial cleavages are entrenched, deep, wide and long. However, the MENA territory covers only 3% of the Earth’s land surface (in contrast to the US’ 6,5%, coverage and Russia’s 11,5%). Thus, with its high population density and strong demographic growth, this very young median population (on average 23–27 years old) dominated by juvenile, mainly unemployed or underemployed, but socially mobilized and often politically radicalized (angry) males, competes over finite and scarce resources, be they arable or settlers land, water and other essentials.

Competition in this theatre, that has a lasting history of external domination or interference, is severe, multiple, unpredictable, and therefore it is fluid and unsettled on the existing or alternative socio-economic, ideological, cultural and politico-military models, access, directions and participatory base.

Interestingly enough the recent crisis, pejoratively nicknamed the Facebook Revolution has so far ‘knocked down’ only MENA republics (declaratively egalitarian and secular regimes of formal democracy). For the time being, it has spared the Arab peninsular absolutistic monarchies (highly oppressive theocratic regimes of real autocracy). The modern-day version of  Metternich’s Alliance of the Eastern Conservative Courts – the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) club has so far gained considerably from the calamities: (i) strategically – more durable regimes and ideologies, translated into their political and diplomatic offensive; (ii) institutionally – besides dominating the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Counties (OPEC), the GCC theocracies now practically control the League of Arab States (LAS), sets its agenda, political direction and punitive actions; and (iii) geo-economically – huge petro-dollar revenues: enlarged quotas caused by the delivery disruptions and embargoes in Libya and elsewhere, as well as the general crude price increase due to MENA uncertainties – e.g. the Bahrain’s State Information Agency reports nearly 20% economic growth for 2011. Hence, if there was any Spring in the Arab world, it was the budding of (Wahhabi sectarian) ideological and hydrocarbon exports of the GCC autocracies in 2011.

Nevertheless, the announced reductions of the American physical presence in Afghanistan, its limits in (nearly failed, nuclear state of) Pakistan, massive overextensions suffered on the southwestern flank of the Euro-Asian continent, as well as the recent US Army pullout from Iraq, is felt within the GCC (in France, Israel and Turkey too) as dangerous exposure to neighboring (increasingly anticipated as assertive) Iran, as well as Russia and China behind it.

Right now, Syria pays a (proxy war) prize for it: This multi-religious country may end up entirely combusted, creating a dangerous security vacuum in the heart of MENA. Oil, its suppliers and its consumers are resolute to fortify and eventually diversify and intensify their bitter covert and overt fight in maintaining the status quo course.

Petro-retro Status Quo: Petrodollars and petro-security
The US has a lasting geo-economic interest in the Gulf of a rather extensive agenda, which is inevitably coupled with its overarching global security concerns. As is well known, oil is the most traded commodity in the world– roughly 12% of overall global trade. By far the largest portion of internationally–traded crude originates from the Gulf. Thus, the US imperatives in the Gulf are very demanding: (i) to support the friendly local regimes with their present socio-political and ideological setups; (ii) to get, in return, their continued approval for the massive physical US military presence and their affirmative vote in international fora; (iii) to maintain its decisive force in the region, securing unhindered oil flows from the Gulf; (iv) to remain as the principal security guarantor and tranquilizer, preventing any hostile takeover – be it of one petrol-exporting state by another or of internal, domestic political and tribe/clan workings; (v) to closely monitor the crude-output levels and money flow within the Gulf and to recycle huge petro-dollar revenues, usually through lucrative arms sales and other security deals with the GCC regimes; (vi) will not enhance, but might permit (calls for) gradual change of the domestic socio-economic and politico-ideological frames in the particular Gulf state, as long as it does not compromise the US objectives in the region as stated above, from (i) to (v).

On the other side of Hormuz, Iran is a unique country that connects the Euro-Med/MENA with Central and South, well to the East Asia, so as it solely bridges the two key Euro-Asian energy plateaus: the Gulf and Caspian. This gives Iran an absolutely pivotal geopolitical and geo-economic posture over the larger region – an opportunity but also an exposure! No wonder that the US physical presence in the Gulf represents a double threat to Iran – geopoli- tically and geo-economically. Nearly all US governments since the unexpected 1979 Shah’s fall, with the G.W. Bush administration being most vocal, have formally advocated a regime change in Teheran. On the international oil market, Iran has no room for maneuver, neither on price nor on quotas. Within OPEC, Iran is frequently silenced by cordial GCC voting.

The US hegemony in the Gulf, a combination of monetary control (crude is traded exclusively in US dollars, predominantly via the New York-based NYMEX and London-based IPE) and physical control (the US Navy controls all transoceanic oil transports), is the essential confirmation as well as the crucial spring of the overall US global posture. In exchange for the energy inflow security, the US anchors loyal bandwagoning in many places around the globe. As long as oil remains priced in USD, it will represent the prime foreign reserve currency (some 68% of global reserves is held in USD), as the functional tie between the major currencies’ exchange rates, (economic and politico-military) security and fossil-fuel energy cannot be derailed and delinked.  Finally, this hegemony is not only based on the exclusivity of oil currency, but also on the exceptionality of the very policy of pricing.

Throughout most of oil’s short history, the price for ‘black gold’ was high enough to yield profits (via the 7-Sisters, mostly for Wall Street – besides the US military, another essential pillar of American might), still without pricing it overly high, which would in return encourage sustained and consequential investments in alternative energy sources. Basically, the main problem with Green/Renewable (de-carbonized) energy is not the complexity, expense, or the lengthy time-line for fundamental technological breakthrough; the central issue is that it calls for a major geopolitical breakthrough. Oil and gas are convenient for monopolization (of extraction location and deployed machinery, of intl. flows, of pricing and consumption modes) – it is a physical commodity of specific locality. Any green technology (not necessarily of particular location or currency) sooner or later will be de-monopolized, and thereby made available to most, if not to all. Therefore, the overall geopolitical imperative for the US remains preservation – not change – of the hydrocarbon status quo.

Ergo, oil (and gas) represents far more than energy. Petroleum (be it a finite biogenic mineral or not) is a socio-economic, psychological, cultural, financial, security and politico-military construct, a phenomenon of civilization that architectures the world of controllable horizontalities which is currently known to, possible and permitted, therefore acceptable for us.

In a broader historical, more vertical or philosophical sense, the hydrocarbons and its scarcity phychologization, its monetization (and related weaponization) is serving rather a coercive and restrictive status quo than a developmental incentive. That essentially calls not for an engagement but compliance. It finally reads that the fossil fuels’ consumption (along with the policy of prizing it) does not only trigger one CC – Climate Change (repeated failure in Durban), but it also perpetuates another global CC – planetary Competition and Confrontation (over finite resources) – to which the MENA calamities are only a tip of an iceberg. Therefore, this highly addictive construct logically permits only a (technological) modernization which is defensive, restrictive and reactive. No wonder that democracy is falling short.

Anything terrific between Arctic and Pacific?
“…bold Russian Arctic policy is (yet) another signal that the Federation… will increase its (non territorial leverage and geopolitical) projection as a major energy supplier of the world throughout the 21st century…” – I noted in 2009. To clarify: Neither Russian territorial size and historical passions, nor pride and socio-economic necessity will cause Moscow to sink down to a second-rank power status. How will the Federation meet its strategic imperative? We have already discussed the two important pillars of the US strength (the so-called ‘East Coast twin might’: the Pentagon and Wall Street). Well, there is the ‘Pacific Coast twin might’ too. The post-Soviet Russia has neither the ideology – global soft power appeal of the US entertainment industry and its ravenous (Hollywood), nor has it the vibrant, world-leading and highly lucrative High-Tech and IT sector (Silicon Valley) that the US possesses.

Let us generously assume the quantitative and qualitative parity between the US and Russia’s armed forces. Still, military modernization requires constant cash injections. How to maintain that? Moscow holds a big advantage: the US imports hydrocarbons while the Federation exports it. Nevertheless, Wall Street controls the international (petrodollar) monetary flow – even the post-Soviet republics are not trading oil in Rubles, but in US dollars. Hence, to meet and finance its strategic imperatives, as well as to respond to the growing international energy demands and to the domestic pressures, Moscow has only non-high tech exports – fossil-fuels – at convenient disposal (no Silicon Valley, no Hollywood). Ergo, Russia is more exposed and vulnerable than the US, and therefore it is an even stronger supporter of both current international market conditions and the hydrocarbon status quo.     

On the eastern, ascendant flank of the Eurasian continent, the Chinese vertigo economy is overheated and too-well integrated in the petrodollar system. Beijing, presently, cannot contemplate or afford to allocate any resources in a search for an alternative. The Sino economy is low-wage- and labor intensive-centered one. Chinese revenues are heavily dependent on exports and Chinese reserves are predominantly a mix of the USD and US Treasury bonds. To sustain itself as a single socio-political and formidably performing economic entity, the People’s Republic requires more energy and less external dependency. Domestically, the demographic-migratory pressures are huge, regional demands are high, and expectations are brewing. Considering its best external energy dependency equalizer (and inner cohesion solidifier), China seems to be turning to its military upgrade rather than towards the resolute alternative energy/Green Tech investments – as it has no time, plan or resources to do both at once. Inattentive of a broader picture, Beijing (probably falsely) believes that lasting containment, especially in the South China Sea, is unbearable, and that – at the same time – fossil-fuels are available (e.g., in Africa and the Gulf), and even cheaper with the help of warships.

Opting for either strategic choice will reverberate in the dynamic Asia–Pacific theatre. However, the messages are diametrical: An assertive military – alienates, new technology – attracts neighbors. Finally, armies conquer (and spend) while technology builds (and accumulates)! At this point, any eventual accelerated armament in the Asia-Pacific theatre would only strengthen the hydrocarbon status quo. With its present configuration, it is hard to imagine that anybody can outplay the US in the petro-security, petro-financial and petro-military global playground in the following few decades. Given the planetary petro-financial-tech-military causal constellations, this type of confrontation is so well mastered by and would further only benefit the US and the closest of its allies.               
                                      
To complete the picture, both Russia and China are supporting the hydrocarbon status quo. Other major theaters are all too dependent geo-economically: on a supply end (Central Asian republics, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Norway, Venezuela, etc.) and on a receiving end (India, Australia, South Africa, etc.) – none is geopolitically emancipated enough to seriously consider any significant tilt towards de-carbonization.

EU-genic or Dynamic?
Less explicitly, the EU (as the post-Westphalian concert of 4 Europes – conglomerate of the Atlantic, Central, Eastern and Scandinavian Europe) will turn consensual to the hydrocarbon status quo, too. If taking a closer look at any of the previous and current Brussels’ transportation and energy policy initiatives, it would clearly show us that the notion was primarily driven by the closest common security consideration denominator – as an attempt to decrease the external vulnerabilities, that includes those of an energy dependency (e.g. energy efficiency initiatives: EEP, Europe 2020, EUFORES, etc.).
Hence, the Union was first and still is most of all a peace treaty for the post WWII Europe recovery. Therefore, both settings (ECSC and EuroAtom) served the confidence building purpose, not as energy-related clearing house/s. The energy policy (suppliers for and composition of the primary energy mix, taxation, etc.) as well as the transportation (means and modes) strictly resides in the individual competence of the Block’s Member States (MS). Any change in the present status quo would assume the common platform of the MS via the Council of the EU (and the subsequent formalization of such a position, at least through the EU Parliament’s promulgation). The absence of such a commonly agreed policy means more of the hydrocarbon status quo. Lastly, it is not only that Atlantic Europe and Central Europe manage their respective energy inflow, its composition and external dependences differently (and selectively). The issue of the hydrocarbon status quo is closely related to the very question of the Euro (and the US dollar-alternate/reserve currency: the British Pound).

For the severely exposed Euro-zone (unsettled global financial crisis), it is a bitter choice between a petrol-pampered dollar (as a stability pillar) and the return to gold (meaning to the pre-Nixon Shock times, before the Bretton Woods consensus was renounced). Brussels and the European Central Bank (ECB) believe they can exercise an influence on the American dollar, via the US Federal Reserves, while nowadays gold resides everywhere – least of all in the US or EU reserves or their mines. Simply put, the post-Nixon currency/ies is/are negotiable; gold is a solid, non-corrosive metal. Also, one should never forget that the politically most influential segment of the Union – Atlantic Europe – shares the same ocean with the US, and all that comes with it (including the ‘monetary nationalism/exceptionalism’).   

However, besides Japan, Brussels will remain a main promoter of the “Kyoto II” mechanism. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with its protocol from Kyoto of 1997 placed China and India in the “emissions tolerant” Annex II, so both subsequently ratified the Instrument. The US and Russia were situated in the much less forgiving Annex I. Past the collapse of the Soviet Union and contraction of the post-Soviet economy and demographics, Kremlin knew it could easily meet the pre-1990 emissions target. Still, it was bargaining until the end of 2004. With the 17% pollution allocation, Russia’s ratification was sufficient enough to activate Kyoto, which eventually entered into force shortly after, in 2005.

The EU’s formal support to the Kyoto protocol and “spirit of UNFCCC/IPCC” has several reflex levels. Without ambition to elaborate it all in detail, let us just note that the Union’s reasons are of political (declared principles) and economic (pragmatic) nature. As the conglomerate of states committed to the supranational principle rituality, it is natural for the Block to (at least declaratively) support any multilateral endorsement, which assumes the supranational notion as well as the full horizontality of implementation and monitoring of compliance mechanism.

The Kyoto provisions of the late 1990s were in perfect harmony with the two grand strategy roadmaps of the EU: the Lisbon (2000) and Goteborg (2001) – hence, the EU’s voluntary self-endorsement via the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). This virtue out of necessity was clear: in the globalized competitive world, the Union of modest economical and of no demo-graphic growth has only the option to become a knowledge based economy, re-architectured as the fair and balanced post-industrial society. Both strategies were gradually abandoned, the Block enlarged (to Eastern Europe, mostly the states whose economies also contracted past the breakup of the Warsaw Pact lager countries – meaning, who are able to meet the Kyoto targets), and the Union’s post-industrial Green-tech renewal waits for better days.

How swift is the shift?
Brussels is well-positioned, but it will not be a global frontrunner in any technology shift. For such a (hydrocarbon de-psychologization) turn, it has neither an inner coherence, visionary strength, nor an external posture. The EU’s economic growth is very symbolic, despite all the huge territorial enlargements of the past decade. Actually, the Union’s growth could be portrayed as negative in many categories. It always serves as a good reminder that a Europe of (economic and demographic) growth was a Europe of might. Europe without growth is a Europe of principles (or to say: of administrative frameworks’ colonialism). The Eastern enlargement of the EU was this very virtue out of necessity: a last territorial expansion, exceptionally based not on coercion but on an ‘attraction’ of the EU’s transformative power.  

Within the OECD/IEA grouping, or closely; the G-8 (the states with resources, infrastructure, tradition of and know-how to advance the fundamental technological breakthroughs), it is only Japan that may seriously consider a Green/Renewable-tech U-turn. Tokyo’s external energy dependencies are stark and long-lasting. After the recent nuclear trauma, Japan will need a few years to (psychologically and economically) absorb the shock – but it will learn a lesson. For such an impresive economy and considerable demography, situated on a small landmass, which is repeatedly brutalized by devastating natural catastrophes (and dependent on yet another disruptive external influence – Arab oil), it might be that a decisive shift towards green energy is the only way to survive, revive, and eventually to emancipate.

An important part of the US–Japan security treaty is the US energy supply lines security guaranty given to (the post-WWII demilitarized) Tokyo. After the recent earthquake-tsunami-radiation armageddon, as well as witnessing the current Chinese military/naval noise, Japan will inevitably rethink and revisit its energy policy, as well as the composition of its primary energy mix. That indicates the Far East as a probable zone of the Green-tech excellence and a place of attraction for many Asians in the decade to come.

(Based on the public lecture “Asia – Pacific: The Hydrocarbon Status Quo and Climate Change”, Chulalongkorn University, Mahachulalongkorn/MEA Think-Tank; Thailand, Bangkok 04 OCT 2011)

References:
1.    Muhic, F., (1983), Teorija Drzave i Prava (Theory of States and Law), Svjetlost Sarajevo;
2.    Cleveland, W. L., (2000), A History of the Modern Middle East, WestView Press, Oxford;
3.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2005), Destiny Shared: Our Common Futures – EURO-MED Human Capital beyond 2020, Crans Montana Forum, Monaco;
4.    Maalouf, A., (1984), Les Croisades vues par les Arabes (The Crusades Through Arab Eyes), Schoken Books, NY;
5.    Engdahl, F.W. (2004), A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, Pluto Press London
6.    The UN Development Program: Human Development Report 2011 (IHD Index, Poverty and Inequality);
7.    The World Bank – World Poverty Index, (2005 PPP), Statistics: 1990 – 2010;
8.    Wright, L. ( 2006), The Looming Tower, Random House New York
9.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2010), Arctic and Antarctic – Security Structures Surrounding the Two Poles, Geopolitics, History and International Relations 2 (2): 218-219, Addleton Publishers 2010
10.    Diamond, L. (2008), The Spirit of Democracy: the Struggle to Build Free Societies throughout the World  /Thinking of the Hybrid Regimes/, Times Books – Henry Holt Publishers  
11.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2011), The Melting Poles: between challenges and opportunities, Central European Journal of International and Security Studies, CEJISS 1/2011– Special Edition: Arctic and Antarctic Meltdown
12.    IAE, International Energy Agency – World Energy Outlook 2011, IEA Paris 2011;
13.    The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UN FCCC/1992/84, GE.05-62220 (E) 200705 and the Kyoto Protocol to the UN FCCC of 1998, UN Office of Legal Affairs;
14.    The UN Climate Change Conference, Durban 2011, Reports November – December 2011 (COP 17, Bali Action Plan and Cancun Agreements), Secretariat of the UN FCCC, Bonn Germany
15.    Stieglitz, J. (2002), Globalization and Its Discontents, Penguin Books
16.    Krayushin, V.A. (1994), The Exploration of the Northern Flank of the Dnieper-Donets Basin – Key findings (research paper submitted for the VII Intl. Symposium on the Observation of the Continental Crust through Drilling) DOSECC, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1994
17.    Brzezinski, Z. (2004), The Choice, Basic Books (Perseus);
18.    Fukuyama, F. (2004), State Building, NY Cornell University Press;
19.    Mawdsley, E and McCann, G. (2011), India in Africa– Changing Geographies of Power, Pambazuka Press/Fahamu;
20.    Kagan, R. (2003), Of Paradise and Power, Vintage Books New York
21.    Primakov, Y.M. (2004), A World Challenged, Brookings Institution Press/Nixon Center
22.    Kissinger, H. (1999), Years of Renewal, Touchstone- Rockefeller Center;
23.    Ivanov, I.S. (2002), The New Russian Diplomacy, Brookings Institution Press/Nixon Center
24.    Leonard, M. (2005), Why Europe Will Run the 21st century, Fourth Estate London
25.    Ignatius, D. (2008), America and the World – Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft by David Ignatius, Advanced Uncorrected Proof Text, (September 2008) Basic Books Washington
26.    Friedman, G. (2009), The Next 100 Years, Anchor Books/Random House NY;
27.    Future Conflict Studies (2009), Understanding Human Dynamics, Report of the US Defense Science Board Task Force, March 2009;     
28.    Mulgan, G. (2006), Good and Bad Power – The Ideals and Betrayals of Government, Penguin Books
29.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2011), The Hydrocarbon Status Quo – Euro–Asian Imperatives, Geopolitics, History and International Relations 3 (2), Addleton Publishers 2011
30.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2012), Why Kyoto Will Fail Again, Geopolitics of Energy, 34 (1), CERI Canada 2012

Modern Diplomacy Advisory Board, Chairman Geopolitics of Energy Editorial Member Professor and Chairperson for Intl. Law & Global Pol. Studies contact: anis@bajrektarevic.eu

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US Blacklist of Chinese Surveillance Companies Creates Supply Chain Confusion

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The United States Department of Commerce’s decision to blacklist 28 Chinese public safety organizations and commercial entities hit at some of China’s most dominant vendors within the security industry. Of the eight commercial entities added to the blacklist, six of them are some of China’s most successful digital forensics, facial recognition, and AI companies. However, the two surveillance manufacturers who made this blacklist could have a significant impact on the global market at large—Dahua and Hikvision.

Putting geopolitics aside, Dahua’s and Hikvision’s positions within the overall global digital surveillance market makes their blacklisting somewhat of a shock, with the immediate effects touching off significant questions among U.S. partners, end users, and supply chain partners.

Frost & Sullivan’s research finds that, currently, Hikvision and Dahua rank second and third in total global sales among the $20.48 billion global surveillance market but are fast-tracking to become the top two vendors among IP surveillance camera manufacturers. Their insurgent rise among IP surveillance camera providers came about due to both companies’ aggressive growth pipelines, significant product libraries of high-quality surveillance cameras and new imaging technologies, and low-cost pricing models that provide customers with higher levels of affordability.

This is also not the first time that these two vendors have found themselves in the crosshairs of the U.S. government. In 2018, the U.S. initiated a ban on the sale and use of Hikvision and Dahua camera equipment within government-owned facilities, including the Department of Defense, military bases, and government-owned buildings. However, the vague language of the ban made it difficult for end users to determine whether they were just banned from new purchases of Dahua or Hikvision cameras or if they needed to completely rip-and-replace existing equipment with another brand. Systems integrators, distributors, and even technology partners themselves remained unsure of how they should handle the ban’s implications, only serving to sow confusion among U.S. customers.

In addition to confusion over how end users in the government space were to proceed regarding their Hikvision and Dahua equipment came the realization that both companies held significant customer share among commercial companies throughout the U.S. market—so where was the ban’s line being drawn for these entities? Were they to comply or not? If so, how? Again, these questions have remained unanswered since 2018.

Hikvision and Dahua each have built a strong presence within the U.S. market, despite the 2018 ban. Both companies are seen as regular participants in industry tradeshows and events, and remain active among industry partners throughout the surveillance ecosystem. Both companies have also attempted to work with the U.S. government to alleviate security concerns and draw clearer guidelines for their sales and distribution partners throughout the country. They even established regional operations centers and headquarters in the country.

While blacklisting does send a clearer message to end users, integrators, and distributors—for sales and usage of these companies’ technologies—remedies for future actions still remain unclear. When it comes to legacy Hikvision and Dahua cameras, the onus appears to be on end users and integrators to decide whether rip-and-replace strategies are the best way to comply with government rulings or to just leave the solutions in place and hope for the best.

As far as broader global impacts of this action, these will remain to be seen. While the 2018 ban did bring about talks of similar bans in other regions, none of these bans ever materialized. Dahua and Hikvision maintained their strong market positioning, even achieving higher-than-average growth rates in the past year. Blacklisting does send a stronger message to global regulators though, so market participants outside the U.S. will just have to adopt a wait-and-see posture to see how, if at all, they may need to prepare their own surveillance equipment supply chains for changes to come.

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After Google’s new set of community standards: What next?

Sisir Devkota

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After weeks of Google’s community standard guidelines made headlines, the Digital Industry Group Inc. (Australia based NGO) rejected proposals from the regulating body based in the southern hemisphere. The group claimed that regulating “fake news” would make the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission a moral police institution. In late August, Google itself forbade its employees from indulging in the dissemination of inadequate information or one that involved internal debates. From the outset, the picture is a bit confusing. After the events in Australia, Google’s latest act of disciplinary intrusion seems all but galvanizing from certain interests or interest groups.

A year earlier, Google was shaken by claims of protecting top-level executives from sexual crimes; the issue took a serious turn and almost deteriorated company operations. If anything but Google’s development from the horror of 2018 clearly suggests a desperate need from the hierarchy to curb actions that could potentially damage the interests of several stakeholders. There is no comprehensive evidence to suggest that Google had a view on how the regulations were proposed in Australia. After all, until proven otherwise, all whistleblowing social media posts and comments are at one point of time, “fake”. Although the global giant has decided to discontinue all forms of unjustifiable freedom inside its premises; however, it does profit by providing the platform for activism and all forms of censure. The Digital Industry Group wants the freedom to encourage digital creative contents, but Google’s need to publish a community guideline looks more of a defensive shield against uncertainties.

On its statement, the disciplinary clause, significantly mentions about the actions that will be taken against staffs providing information that goes around Google’s internal message boards. In 2017, female employees inside the Google office were subjected to discrimination based on the “gender-ness” of working positions. Kevin Kernekee, an ex-employee, who was fired in 2018, confirmed that staff bullying was at the core of such messaging platforms. Growing incidents inside Google and its recent community stance are but only fuelling assumptions about the ghost that is surrounding the internet giant’s reputation. Consequently, from the consumer’s point of view, an instable organization of such global stature is an alarm.

The dissidents at Google are not to be blamed entirely. As many would argue, the very foundation of the company was based on the values of expression at work. The nature of access stipulated into Google’s interface is another example of what it stands for, at least in the eyes of consumers. Stakeholders would not wish for an internal turmoil; it would be against the enormous amount of trust invested into the workings of the company. If google can backtrack from its core values upon higher forces, consumers cannot expect anything different. Google is not merely a search engine; for almost half of the internet users, it is almost everything.

“Be responsible, Be helpful, Be thoughtful”. These phrases are the opening remarks from the newly engineered community guideline. As it claims in the document, three principles govern the core values at Google. Upon closer inspection, it also sounds as if the values are only based on what it expects from the people working for the company. A global company that can resort to disciplining its staff via written texts can also trim the rights of its far-reaching consumer groups. It might only be the beginning but the tail is on fire.

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How to Design Responsible Technology

MD Staff

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Biased algorithms and noninclusive data sets are contributing to a growing ‘techlash’ around the world. Today, the World Economic Forum, the international organisation for public-private cooperation has released a new approach to help governments and businesses counter these growing societal risks.

The Responsible Use of Technology report provides a step-by-step framework for companies and governments to pin point where and how they can integrate ethics and human rights-based approaches into innovation. Key questions and actions guide organizations through each phase of a technology’s development process and highlight what can be done and when to help organizations mitigate unethical practices. Notably, the framework can be applied on technology in the ‘final’ use and application phase, empowering users to play an active role in advocating for policies, laws and regulations that address societal risks.

The guide was co-designed by industry leaders from civil society, international organizations and businesses including BSR, the Markkula Centre for Applied Ethics, the United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Microsoft, Uber, Salesforce, IDEO, Deloitte, Omidyar Network and Workday. The team examined national technology strategies, international business programmes and ethical task forces from around the world, combining lessons learned with local expertise to develop a guide that would be inclusive across different cultures.

“Numerous government and large technology companies around the world have announced strategies for managing emerging technologies,” said Pablo Quintanilla, Fellow at the World Economic Forum, and Director in the Office of Innovation, Salesforce. “This project presents an opportunity for companies, national governments, civil society organizations, and consumers to teach and to learn from each other how to better build and deploy ethically-sound technology. Having an inclusive vision requires collaboration across all global stakeholders.”

“We need to apply ethics and human rights-based approaches to every phase in the lifecycle of technology – from design and development by technology companies through to the end use and application by companies across a range of industries,” said Hannah Darnton, Programme Manager, BSR. “Through this paper, we hope to advance the conversation of distributed responsibility and appropriate action across the whole value chain of actors.”

“Here, we can draw from lessons learned from companies’ efforts to implement ‘privacy and security by design,” said Sabrina Ross, Global Head of Marketplace Policy, Uber. “Operationalizing responsible design requires leveraging a shared framework and building it into the right parts of each company’s process, culture and commitments. At Uber, we’ve baked five principles into our product development process so that our marketplace design remains consistent with and accountable to these principles.”

This report is part of the World Economic Forum’s Responsible Development, Deployment and Use of Technology project. It is the first in a series tackling the topic of technology governance. It will help inform the key themes at the Forum’s Global Technology Governance Summit in San Francisco in April 2020. The project team will work across industries to produce a more detailed suite of implementation tools for organizations to help companies promote and train their own ‘ethical champions’. The steering committee now in place will codesign the next steps with the project team, building on the input already received from global stakeholders in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America.

About the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network

The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network brings together more than 100 governments, businesses, start-ups, international organizations, members of civil society and world-renown experts to co-design and pilot innovative approaches to the policy and governance of technology. Teams in Colombia, China, India, Israel, Japan, UAE and US are creating human-centred and agile policies to be piloted by policy-makers and legislators, shaping the future of emerging technology in ways that maximize their benefits and minimize their risks. More than 40 projects are in progress across six areas: artificial intelligence, autonomous mobility, blockchain, data policy, drones and the internet of things.

The Network helped Rwanda write the world’s first agile aviation regulation for drones and is scaling this up throughout Africa and Asia. It also developed actionable governance toolkits for corporate executives on blockchain and artificial intelligence, co-designed the first-ever Industrial IoT (IIoT) Safety and Security Protocol and created a personal data policy framework with the UAE.

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