China


We’ve been talking about competition as one of the major policy issues in the data analytics space. But this is an angle we had not thought about: China. Still, with the European Union enacting tough new privacy laws, and some in the United States eager to follow, Google and Facebook could soon be forced to find ways to make money beyond selling users’ personal information to advertisers, said Raj Rajgopal, president of digital business strategy at Virtusa Corporation, a consulting firm. “As profitability reduces, they’ll say, ‘Now I need to monetize my customer base,’” Mr. Rajgopal said.
Data sovereignty, or the desire of states to exert unfettered control over data associated with natural and legal persons under their jurisdiction, was seen as an issue with the highest salience at a foresight event I participated in Bengaluru a few days ago. Several of us thought that the states will push for greater control in the immediate future and will be met with significant resistance from citizens and companies (varying across different kinds of data and different countries; health data may be easier than traffic data; states in big countries are more likely to prevail than those in small ones). We expected some kind of equilibrium to be achieved in around 5-10 years. The effort by law enforcement authorities in the US to compel Microsoft to handover the contents of email stored in Ireland and the case of the Great Firewall of China came up in discussion. Here is a discussion on recent developments in China: This is worrying not just for people who want to surf the web without annoying obstructions.
I have been cautious about buying the Western media story on China’s social credit system, but I had little other than gut feeling for my caution. Now finally, here is an analysis that will balance the Western narrative, which the author says is more about what those in the West worry about and not about what is actually happening in China. Debate over the appropriate balance between security and liberty is nothing new. While technological and data management innovations have introduced new tools, it can’t surprise anyone to learn where China’s Communist Party draws the line between individual privacy and social stability. If anything, I would have thought that the plan’s faith in market forces and private business, or the efforts at government legitimacy through increasing transparency, would have been more surprising to those outside of China.
Privacy is a subjective thing. Some of it is from the inside of the individual; some is social. It’s not immutable. It’s not the same across societies. Now after Yudhanjaya’s reflection on the Chinese social credit system, we are more interested than ever in what is going on in China.
Following Beniger, I have pointed to the need for control in soft sense as the driver for much of what is going in ICTs these days. But is China understanding control in a hard sense? China Telecom showed off its ability to measure the amount of trash in several garbage cans and detect malfunctioning fire hydrants. Investors and analysts say China’s unabashed fervor for collecting such data, combined with its huge population, could eventually give its artificial intelligence companies an edge over American ones. If Silicon Valley is marked by a libertarian streak, China’s vision offers something of an antithesis, one where tech is meant to reinforce and be guided by the steady hand of the state.
Following Beniger, I have pointed to the need for control in soft sense as the driver for much of what is going in ICTs these days. But is China understanding control in a hard sense? China Telecom showed off its ability to measure the amount of trash in several garbage cans and detect malfunctioning fire hydrants. Investors and analysts say China’s unabashed fervor for collecting such data, combined with its huge population, could eventually give its artificial intelligence companies an edge over American ones. If Silicon Valley is marked by a libertarian streak, China’s vision offers something of an antithesis, one where tech is meant to reinforce and be guided by the steady hand of the state.
With less than a million citizens, Djibouti struggles with the abysmal ICT indicators. Its internet hums with 12% penetration while mobile SIM penetration is 36% only. Now flip the page. Nine submarine cables transit at Djibouti to link Africa, the Middle East and Asia with Europe. Australia is coming soon!
There was a big kerfuffle about China banning Whatsapp. But when Saudi Arabia did the “beheading” in 2013, much less outrage. Oh well. It helps when you have driven expectation down to the negative range. But anyway, they seem to have figured that there’s a downside in not having these services.
“We are very poor. We have lost touch with the world. We need the World Bank to catch up.” This is a quotation from Julian Gewirtz’s book, Unlikely Partners, that I will be using in my keynote address at the University of Peradeniya Humanities and Social Sciences Conference on 28 July 2017. It was in a conversation between Deng Xiaoping and Robert McNamara.
The first time this happened was when Pacific Century Cyber Works (PCCW), controlled by Richard Li, acquired Hong Kong Telecom. But that 2000 adventure did not end well. PCCW’s stock price tanked. Seventeen years later, things are different. The real story may not be a state-sanctioned infusion of private capital into a 100% state owned infrastructure company, but the first move by firms in the upper layers to take over entities in the infrastructure level.
It is increasingly common to read/hear references to the Big Five (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft) as the entities shaping our virtual experiences, and perhaps the trajectory of human development. But why are Alibaba and Tencent not included in this conversation? This Digital Asia Hub piece provides a valuable corrective: The attributes, connections, and behaviors we capture in our data — and how we model them — shape what our AIs value, and how they behave, i.e., their culture.
One of our current priorities is to work with the National Statistical Agency to see how we can complement official statistics instruments on socio-economic monitoring. China watchers are not collaborating with the NSO. They are trying to second guess it. I was wondering though, wouldn’t we be happy if we got these kinds of correlations? “Big data provide an increasingly comprehensive and timely lens” on the world’s second-largest economy, the analysts wrote, adding a caveat that such indicators should be interpreted with caution.
I was surprised to hear an otherwise knowledgeable person participating in the Grand Challenges discussion here at University of Washington say there was no innovation in China. The time and place were not right for that discussion. But then NYT came with a substantive refutation: Snapchat and Kik, the messaging services, use bar codes that look like drunken checkerboards to connect people and share information with a snap of their smartphone cameras. Facebook is working on adding the ability to hail rides and make payments within its Messenger app. Facebook and Twitter have begun live-streaming video.
Twenty years ago, when NAFTA was still a novelty, Patrick Hadley and I looked at the interface of trade and communication policy. I recalled this when I was asked a question during a TV talk show about safeguards for culture in trade agreements. Looks like the issues we wrote about are becoming mainstream: China’s notorious online controls have long been criticized as censorship by human rights groups, businesses, Chinese Internet users and others. Now they have earned a new label from the American government: trade barrier. United States trade officials have for the first time added China’s system of Internet filters and blocks — broadly known as the Great Firewall — to an annual list of trade impediments.
We have always said that big data is about control, in the soft form first described by James Beniger. Information and control are closely connected. Beniger (1986, pp. 7-8) states that the twin activities of information processing and reciprocal communication (or feedback) are inseparable from the concept of control. Control is defined in the broadest sense as “purposive influence toward a predetermined goal.
A carrier-neutral international cable that will connect Myanmar to Thailand and Malaysia is be operational by 2017. he story does not say anything about SEA-ME-WE 5, scheduled to be operational in 2016, and the AAE-1 cable scheduled for completion in Q4 2016. Nor is any mention made of the already built new links to China. Could this be because all the above except for SEA-ME-WE 5 are essentially cables that connect China to the world, which just happen to go through Myanmar? Any way, a carrier-neutral cable is always a good thing.