Marietje Schaake: Can democracy survive in a digital world?
Today, on the future of everything. The future of information, technology. And government. So we are constantly, reminded, of the great power, information, technology, can provide. Information, technology. Ai. Big data, these are all associated, with the hardware, software, and internet companies that have become giants, in our economy, really globally. Google, apple facebook, microsoft. We all know the list. Many industries, have been transformed. By the adoption of information technology. Think about transportation. Banking and finance, real estate. And even healthcare. The field where i operate. Slowly, but surely. The changes. Uh have raised, challenges, to governments. And the gov, the challenges, to governments are really in my to in my assessment, two-fold. First, the government, must look internally. To figure out how to use information, technology. To make its processes, and procedures. Efficient, and effective. At the same time, of course. Democratic, governments must respect, the privacy, confidentiality. Of their citizens. Adhere to principles, of justice, justice and fairness. And allow, freedom and autonomy, for the citizens. The second, challenge, is that government, also has a role as a regulatory. Body in the u.s. Government regulates, the financial, sector. Medical, products. Transportation. And many other areas. What is the right level of regulation. Who should decide, if and when a single company, has become too big, too dominant. And is threatening competition. Progress. And maybe even freedoms. Some of us remember that in 1982. The phone company, bell telephone. Was a single, company. That provided, all phone service. Throughout the united states. The government decided that this was not a good thing. And broke it up into regional companies. In a way that was absolutely. Unthinkable. A few years before. Bell telephone, had funded, the most advanced, laboratories. Bell labs. Where many nobel prizes, were won and it had produced, great, advanced, technologies. Arguably, a great asset for the country. But evidently the government. Didn't think it was worth it, so now fast forward we're in 2020. How difficult, is it to imagine. Regulating. Or even breaking up some of these large. Information, technology, companies that are leading in product, service. And also r d, is everything, fine. Or does the government, need to think about what to do. Mauricio, shaka. Is a, international. Policy, director, at the cyber policy, center. As well as an international, policy, fellow at the institute, for human-centered. Ai at stanford. And she's. A leader, in thinking about these issues. She was a member of european, parliament, from 2009. To 2019. And led, several working groups related to europe's digital, agenda. At stanford, she's involved, in research, and teaching. Classes, such as ai, and the rule of law. Governing, artificial, intelligence. And technology. And the 2020, election. Mauricia. In your speeches, and in your writing you are devoted, to advancing, democracy. But it sounds like you're worried, about democracy. Being threatened, by these trends, in information, technology, including ai. Where do those worries, come from, and what have you learned, in your experience, in government, about what we might want to do. Well first of all thank you it's so good to see you and i'm sad that we can't be on the vibrant, and sunny stamford, campus together, where we can have coffee, and talk about these topics, face to face. Uh but it's really nice to be on your podcast, and to catch up this way. I do worry about. The, sustainability. And resilience, of democracy. For a variety, of reasons, and i think technology. Plays a growing, role in what is at stake. As it does with almost all other sectors as you mentioned. And, one of the phenomena, that i i think we don't discuss enough.
Is How. Digitization. Almost always means privatization. And so. Sure, companies, can provide, for. Efficient, services. Necessary. Services, for governments, anything from databases. Or social security, systems. Or, any kind of big administrations. But increasingly. Technology. Artificial, intelligence. Very advanced, processes. Become a part and a layer of, everything, in society. And where for example, a private company may have, built roads before and then those roads became. Public spaces. Right it wasn't the government, itself, that was going to pave the roads. Right now. When, a tech company. Paves the digital, roads. It still retains, access to the data. And it doesn't, ever really become a public space. Now you may wonder. Why does it matter because maybe the companies, can run these services, much, better, than, governments, do governments. Tend to have a fairly bad reputation, for service delivery. But you run into all kinds of questions, about, accountability. Where governments, are simply, put under a different spotlight, for good reasons. Than companies. Normally, are and i think this blurring. Yes presents, a very fundamental, question, about. What kind of transparency. What kind of accountability. What kind of independent, oversight, we think is appropriate. In society. And how we apply, those principles, that have been. You know evolving. Over, over centuries, of of, democracy. And and democratic, governance how do we apply those in a technological. Context, and there it becomes much more complicated. So you make a you, you talked about how governments have been doing this for centuries, and i mentioned, briefly the uh bell labs, and and, bill telephone. Um, is this challenge, from uh from digital. Uh economy, and digital technologies. Is it unprecedented. Or can we look back in history and see similar, challenges. And kind of take some uh, some strength and from and some guidance, from those previous. Situations. I think we can take a lot of strength and guidance, from the way we've been dealing with regulation. As such i mean. The tech sector has been relatively. Under-regulated. And so, uh we hear a lot of uh squeaking, and shouting, from companies, when they are facing, regulation. You know, it's, it's allegedly, stifling, innovation. And and some people think that europe is particularly. Harsh. On tech companies. But i think it's good to remember, that, anything, from pharmaceuticals. To, automobiles. To. Food, and and drinks, it's regulated. Not to harm those industries. But to make sure that consumers, can safely. You know take, a medication. Or eat something for dinner, or drive the car. And so. We must focus again on the very principles, that we think should not be disrupted, by technology, but that may actually. Visibly and invisibly, intendedly, or unintendedly. Be at stake, because of this massive, and i would say unprecedented. Situation, that digitization. Brings because. There may have been very powerful, sectors before. But they were also met with, with oversight. And, more competition. In the case of telecoms, operators, there was a trend. That in in europe is to some extent still ongoing, of of. Denationalizing. Them basically, taking these companies, out of the hands of the state and creating a market for them more competition. And the belief is generally, that more competition, actually leads to innovation, but it only works when the competition, is fair. And in order to know whether someone is treated fairly or not they would have to have some kind of visibility, of how they're treated. And i think that this whether you're, a person, using, google. Or whether you're a company that feels like google is ranking your results. Uh, unfavorably. And unfairly. Uh, you know or whether you're a company that has a different product and is is taken over by a merger or acquisition. Your access to information, is vital to. To claiming, your rights. And on a macro, scale this is true too if people are not aware, of harms. They will not demand. Regulatory. Change. So that, so you're in uh, on that note, by the way this is the future of everything i'm russ altman i'm speaking with marica, shaka and we're talking about.
Government, And digital, technologies. Um you're in a very unique position. Not very you're in a unique position. Uh because you've uh spent a lot of time in the us both in college, and recently, in silicon, valley but you're of course we're part of the leadership, of europe. Uh. Is there a different sensibility. In the united states, and in, in europe and is it significant. And what can we learn, because we share so much, history, and culture, that there's this, seems to be this divide but i i don't i don't want to claim it unless unless you can confirm, that there is this very different way of thinking about these issues. I do think there is uh some difference, a cultural, difference one might say. Where. I think generally, generally, speaking, americans, tend to trust the market more or companies, more, and europeans, tend to look, to government, more but that is not so much because they definitely, they, you know blindly, trust governments, in fact in very recent history, in europe. Governments, were actually spying on people. You know repressing, people, and that is a very fresh memory people have. But. Because, of that, dark history. The safeguarding. Of rights. The enabling. Of freedoms. Through. Benchmarks. And. Uh rules of the road, uh, the anchoring, of rights and and accountability. Mechanisms. Are appreciated. By, people. Um, i've i've often, thought back. In the context, of of technology. Of, a very very. Troubling. Um, situation, that we went through in our country. Here in amsterdam, in fact. The dutch, were very proud. Of their highly efficient. Uh dealing with census, type information. So in terms of a population, registry. The dutch were among the most advanced. Then, despite. The claim of of neutrality. In world war ii. Uh the nazi, forces. Uh occupied, the country, and. Gained access, to these, registries. And because they were so efficient. So well documented. So well done, and innovative. It was easy for for the these, repressive, forces, to find exactly, where jewish, people lived and. The second largest percentage, of jews. Was murdered in the netherlands. And, it is it is a, horrible. Memory, of history, but the point is. Sometimes. When you look through the lens of efficiency. And. Precision. And. Uh, preservation. Of data. You may see a very different picture. Than when you look at the same. System. With a with a lens of risk, and what could happen. If they get abused. If it turns against minorities. If they fall into the wrong hands and i think that that sort of more. Risk-based. Look. On what technology, can also do, is probably, more present. In europe. Maybe because of history, maybe because of other reasons. But i would say, uh that, that, that the worst case scenarios. Are also to be considered. So yeah very that's a a very sobering, story, and and i wanted to ask. On this note because there seems to be a political, will in europe. One of the things, and i don't want to get into the weeds but there as you know very well there's a regulation, called gdpr. Which is a a broad. Digital, set of protections. For uh citizens, in europe. For those who are not familiar with it it's probably responsible, for many of your. Requests, to accept, things, on websites, because in the last couple years, everybody who has an international, business, which might include european, uh customers, or or participants. Has had to get permission. For like tracking, and stuff and so people have been seeing these i accept. Things at the bottom of the screen, um.
Did, I presume that the political, will to make this kind of regulation, came from these impulses. Um, and, we're not yet seeing it at the in the united states although people are beginning to grumble, about it and i was wondering, if you can give us a sense of, uh how advanced do you think that urge is in america. And what, as somebody who's a little bit of a distance from america, do you see us going this direction or is this just not something that you see happening. Yeah so i think the general data protection, regulation, is another good example. Of a law that is maybe best known for how it's, how it's, uh binding, companies, to certain standards, of data protection. But it also binds governments. So in, if a european, government, mistreats, the data of people, it gets fined similarly, to how a company can get fined so it's maybe. Good to remember, for americans. Who think that, the regulation, is only of the market no the standards also apply to government, so. Um. Do i think that this is um. Something that is being understood, and appreciated, in the united states yes increasingly. So and it's best exemplified. By the california. Privacy, act. And. Actually in in quite clear terms, people were inspired, by the european, law, now what's ironic, is that politically, and i was serving in the european parliament when this law was debated. And conceived, and voted on. The argument was very much that this data protection, regulation. Needed to also, reign, in the big tech companies, because there was a broad. Broadly, shared, concern, that they were basically becoming, too powerful. And, had too much agency. Over people's, personal, data, and i think that's still the case. However. Even though the argument, was that it would actually. Counterbalance. That big power of big tech, it turns out, that it's actually, empowered. The big tech firms. Uh and that it's been much more difficult, for smaller companies, and public institutions. To adhere to these fairly complex. Data protection, rules. Where if you have you know a hundred thousand staff and multi-billion. Dollar. Turnovers, and profits. It's much easier to comply with basically, anything you're asked to do, than if you're a mom and pop store that does. I don't know like contract, processing. Or, that's interesting i hadn't heard that does that mean. Is anybody in europe considering, uh, modifications. To the rule to help the kind of smaller guys, smaller. Startups, or whatever. Yeah well there's definitely a lot of lessons learned, and so there was recently an evaluation. That that made very clear that. The ideas. Of, the general data protection regulation, are broadly supported, and actually legitimate. But the execution, and the enforcement, is really lagging behind and it's also because of an asymmetry.
Between Regulators. So for example data protection, regulators. In a country like, i don't know belgium. Uh that basically, have to assess, whether a company like facebook, with what two and a half billion users, now, uh is complying. And and, the level of knowledge, the level of access to information. The level of, ability, to probe. And to deal with a multitude, of cases that may land on their desk. Is still something that needs more capacity, and capacity, should be seen in the broader sense so budgets. Knowledge. Um, mandates. And so there's a lot of updating, going on there, so it sounds like actually the gdpr. Everybody. Europe is doing all of us a favor by running this experiment, in a way, so we can figure out what works and what doesn't work and i can see now that it creates an ecosystem, that probably, needs, modification. But it gets started, in the directions, that you've been, that you've been uh. Recommending. So i wanted to ask because i know a lot of people especially in the us, think this. Um. How much, of the european. Uh, uh. How should we call it skepticism. About the big tech companies, has to do with the fact that they're based in the u.s and in fact many of them are based in a very. Local geographic, area of silicon, valley. And and there's a sense that like this is the americans, kind of interloping. On our lives, like yet again, it reminds me a little bit of some of the lash. Of, as you well know there's also a big difference in the united states and europe, in the attitude, towards genetically, modified, food and monsanto. Has a bit not a great reputation. And i'm wondering is this that movie all over again or is this different. Because people have said this people have dismissed, in a way that may not be fair. These concerns, as they just don't want the american companies, to do well. Yeah or a bit of jealousy, i've also heard you know allegations, that it's jealousy, but, this very question, i've thought about so much over the last couple of months you know why. Because, of the whole. Saga around tick tock. For the first time. A non-american. Social media. Video platform complex. Was so popular. That hundreds of millions or tens of millions i don't know the exact numbers but in, any case vast numbers of americans, downloaded, it quicker. Than regulators, could blink and understand. Is this a threat, to the way that data is being collected, by in this case a chinese. Home base right yes, and is there a reason to be concerned for national security, for kids well-being, for all kinds of, reasons, and so. I thought, well look at that, you know the president, has now threatened a ban, it needs to be nationalized. At the first, instance. That a foreign. Company. The american, market, with such numbers, now. I don't want to create any kind of, equivalence. Between, china and the us but for the notion, that, this massive. Influence, on teenagers. But in fact, you know, everyone, in in society, well today's teenagers, are tomorrow's, parents, and leaders, so, well and i understood that tick-tock is also very popular, among um, uh you know, women that are that are older than teenagers, but, um. I don't have the details, there but the point is really. In europe, there has been. Massive, downloading, and use of foreign. Made. Services. Online. For a long time. There has not been a proposal, to ban anything. Right. So, i'm sure somebody has. Shouted it somewhere but, not on a serious, political, level. So i would say. It might be an interesting lesson for americans, to say look we're open for business, and we're open for innovation, we're open for services from all over the world but we do want, to have requirements. That's, that safeguard. Our population. And our data. In a way that it cannot just be used and abused. By some foreign government, and exactly, those concerns. Are vivid in europe. And i think it's actually. Not very strange, and it's not directed, against american companies, it just happens to be that silicon, valley is an, extraordinarily.
Successful, And powerful, place when it comes to, bringing, forth. These technologies. You know, the the big, what is it big nine. Uh, companies, a lot of them are american now increasingly, chinese. And so i think you'll see that europeans, will be concerned, about. Possible, abuses, and risks. No matter where the firms are originating. This is the future of everything i'm russ altman more, with mauricio. About government. Ai. And the challenges, of in the digital, age, next, on siriusxm. Welcome back to the future of everything this is russ altman i'm speaking with mauricio, shaka and we're talking about. Digital, technologies, and government, and i i think, it would be crazy. For us not to discuss. The role of digital technologies. Social media in elections. So. I'm sure you've thought about this, what is your sense of what has happened in the past. What did we learn from 2016. And perhaps other elections. And what are we looking at going into. Uh late 2020. Uh, in the united states in particular. Well i think the whole world is watching the american elections, and uh, it's going gonna be historic. Uh no matter what else happens it's already. Such an unprecedented. Set of events that we're seeing unfolding, every day and technology. Is. A growing. Aspect, of this whole process, whether it is a president, tweeting. Or whether it is attempts at hacking election technologies. Or the spread of disinformation. In covert, ways. We really have to, appreciate, the fact that democracy. Is under attack. And i think that a big lesson learned in the us, since the 2016. Election is that this threat is real. And, maybe going back a little bit further that, technology. Even if it is well intended. Does not automatically. Make. Liberalizing. Or democratizing. A, set of ideas, going viral. And the promise from silicon valley i guess was very much that. Without, intervention. The best outcomes. Uh, would be would be harvested. And clearly. That's not the case, uh there's a real need, to preserve democracy. To improve. Democracy. And engagement. And to make sure that it is not eroded. Either from the outside, or from within, increasingly. And so, um. I think it is fair to say that the. Widespread. Availability. Of. Connected, devices. Social media. Has also, created, new vulnerabilities. That have been exploited. Faster. Than they've been protected, against. Yes, and i think many of us were shocked, at, the the cleverness. And the kind of um, behavioral. Science. Know-how. That went into, the, early, attempts to manipulate, elections, uh, really sophisticated. And kind of um. Unbelievably. Thoughtful, in terms of behavioral, science, and how to modify people's behaviors. So that's really interesting just going back a little bit to the first part of the the program where we talked about historic, lessons in europe. I think for a lot of europeans. This is not so surprising. Because they actually lived under, stasi, which was the, domestic. Intelligence, service that was spying, on people in in germany, when it was still communist. And so, this idea, that there are, very sophisticated. Manipulative. Propagandist. Um. Methods, available, if you if you wish to deploy, them, uh is something that i think we can see throughout history i think there was just a huge naivete. About whether those means would be deployed. In america, and whether they would be, um, exposed. And i think the challenge, there is to, on the one hand tackle the harms, and and, prevent. The erosion, of the very, rights of people, to you know participate, in the democratic. Process, and to make their own choices, which this really touches on the fundamental. Notion. Philosophical. Foundation, of, liberalism. Which is that you make your own choices. But if you're very much manipulated. We can really wonder what's what's left of that freedom to choose and also freedom to vote, right yes. And so, um. I think there's a huge waking up happening, in america, i hope, that the measures, taken, are are fast enough especially, in light of people who are, sowing, distrust. In the electoral, process. Uh on a daily basis including, the president, unfortunately. So let's think about those measures because, you could imagine, a couple of different interventions, there could be governmental.
Interventions, And there could be companies. Uh in the setting of a 2020, election. Uh and you know here we are in the late summer of 2020. It seems to me that, um, we have limited, options, and it seems like in fact we're gonna have to trust, the companies, to do at least some of these things, because the government has not set up the infrastructure, and as you just kind of alluded to, doesn't, really even show at least at the federal level any, uh inkling, towards leadership, in this area, um. What, um what what can be done what should be done, and um, is it. Happening. Well i am hopeful about a couple of grassroots. Initiatives. Um, where actually a lot of our colleagues at stanford, are very, involved. So, there are initiatives, between researchers. And tech companies, to have sort of, a real-time. Watching. Of, manipulation. And and, um. What is called coordinated, inauthentic, behavior, and and disinformation. Spreading. And so, um. I think that that those are helpful, at least you know better than nothing. Uh the challenge, is though that there's so much polarization. That there's almost, no messenger. That is, trusted, across the board anymore. And so i could also imagine that there would be a sort of, commission, of national, interests, that has people from both sides of the aisle with different expertises. In electoral. Processes. In technology. Perhaps, in public health because we're now. Having to deal with with our democratic, rights amidst. A pandemic, and the need to, be careful about public health. Uh maybe also, um. National security, so that if there's any disputes, about abusive, power, or the right to demonstrate, or things like that that they can also be reflected, upon. In any case i think what america needs right now is trusted, messengers. Um. And hopefully, there will be people who can stand up, and and bring the country back together. Uh i've never seen. The us this divided, especially. In in the middle of a national. Emergency. Um, you know after 9 11 people really. United, sort of you know behind the national interest and surely there were, there were um. Witch hunts, of of, muslim americans, that were completely, uh. Unacceptable, but by and large there was a sort of bipartisan. A meeting of the moment and right now it's almost like the opposite, you know when people need to support each other they are standing with their backs against each other and at times are even firing, arms at each other. And so i think that that it's a crucial election in every way. Um, not only because of the technological, component, but actually for much more fundamental. Principles, that are at stake, uh. In these months in america. How do you think about, um the claims, that people make that this is censorship, and of course censorship, is a big bad word. Certainly in the us and i think, in all democracies. What do we say to people say well when you set up these monitors, and these you would you describe, the researchers. That are working, with the um, tech companies, but of course there would be a worry that this is a form of censorship, and they're going to suppress. Non-academic. Type voices. Often associated, with liberalism. What should we think about that. Well so i mean, academics, would never. Censor. Voices. What they can do is is, have. Independent. Methodologically. Sound. Methodologically. Sound. Eyes, on the process, and create some kind of insight, into it and i think that has been a fundamental, challenge. Uh in in the power of the big tech, platforms, they build, an information, ecosystem. They tweak the information, ecosystem. And and the algorithmic, processes, on a daily basis, often on a permanent, basis. And and all or or not all but like all the information that runs over it is becoming increasingly, important for where people get information. And so. I believe that we can only have a well-informed, debate about what is a proper intervention. I'm not talking about censorship, but intervention. For example. Is it proper to intervene, to take down.
A, Chinese. Run, bot network. I would say most americans, would not consider, it censorship. When foreign intervention. In an invisible, way, is caught. But it also requires, more clarity, of laws. Laws on political, ads, laws on ads in general. Laws on the protection, of sensitive, categories. Like minorities. Or or others. That are now, sometimes, deliberately. Targeted. With micro, targeting, which is you know first gathering a lot of data on people and then tweaking messages, to target them exactly, on the points that they're sensitive, to, in ways that if it happens to us we wouldn't even know. Um, and the question is is that acceptable. Is that acceptable, for political, ads. Uh is the flow of money. Um. In line with with what we think helps. Democracy, and so i think, this is actually, making the case for regulation, if you don't want. Companies, to decide, what stays up and what goes down which is what's happening today right facebook has a lot of power over what gets seen and what doesn't get seen, that's why you get these allegations, that they have a bias, one way or another. If you don't want that, then we need to update the rules. On a sort of rule of law based. Notion with independent, oversight, where if you're unhappy, you can complain. And your rights are protected, too. Well, this has been the future of everything i'm russ altman if you missed any of this. Show, please listen on demand anytime, with the sirius, xm, app, thank. You.