Unpacking China’s game-changing data law


Article by Shen Lu: “China’s National Congress passed the highly anticipated Personal Information Protection Law on Friday, a significant piece of legislation that will provide Chinese citizens significant privacy protections while also bolstering Beijing’s ambitions to set international norms in data protection.

China’s PIPL is not only key to Beijing’s vision for a next-generation digital economy; it is also likely to influence other countries currently adopting their own data protection laws.

The new law clearly draws inspiration from the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, and like its precursor is an effort to respond to genuine grassroots demand for greater right to consumer privacy. But what distinguishes China’s PIPL from the GDPR and other laws on the books is China’s emphasis on national security, which is a broadly defined trump card that triggers data localization requirements and cross-border data flow restrictions….

The PIPL reinforces Beijing’s ambition to defend its digital sovereignty. If foreign entities “engage in personal information handling activities that violate the personal information rights and interests of citizens of the People’s Republic of China, or harm the national security or public interest of the People’s Republic of China,” China’s enforcement agencies may blacklist them, “limiting or prohibiting the provision of personal information to them.” And China may reciprocate against countries or regions that adopt “discriminatory prohibitions, limitations or other similar measures against the People’s Republic of China in the area of personal information protection.”…

Many Asian governments are in the process of writing or rewriting data protection laws. Vietnam, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have all inserted localization provisions in their respective data protection laws. “[The PIPL framework] can provide encouragement to countries that would be tempted to use the data protection law that includes data transfer provisions to add this national security component,” Girot said.

This new breed of data protection law could lead to a fragmented global privacy landscape. Localization requirements can be a headache for transnational tech companies, particularly cloud service providers. And the CAC, one of the data regulators in charge of implementing and enforcing the PIPL, is also tasked with implementing a national security policy, which could present a challenge to international cooperation….(More)

Afghan people face an impossible choice over their digital footprint


Nighat Dad at New Scientist: “The swift progress of the Taliban in Afghanistan has been truly shocking…Though the Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told the press conference that it wouldn’t be seeking “revenge” against people who had opposed them, many Afghan people are understandably still worried. On top of this, they — including those who worked with Western forces and international NGOs, as well as foreign journalists — have been unable to leave the country, as flight capacity has been taken over by Western countries evacuating their citizens.

As such, people have been attempting to move quickly to erase their digital footprints, built up during the 20 years of the previous US-backed governments. Some Afghan activists have been reaching out to me directly to help them put in place robust mobile security and asking how to trigger a mass deletion of their data.

The last time the Taliban was in power, social media barely existed and smartphones had yet to take off. Now, around 4 million people in Afghanistan regularly use social media. Yet, despite the huge rise of digital technologies, a comparative rise in digital security hasn’t happened.

There are few digital security resources that are suitable for people in Afghanistan to use. The leading guide on how to properly delete your digital history by Human Rights First is a brilliant place to start. But unfortunately it is only available in English and unofficially in Farsi. There are also some other guides available in Farsi thanks to the thriving community of tech enthusiasts who have been working for human rights activists living in Iran for years.

However, many of these guides will still be unintelligible for those in Afghanistan who speak Dari or Pashto, for example…

People in Afghanistan who worked with Western forces also face an impossible choice as countries where they might seek asylum often require digital proof of their collaboration. Keep this evidence and they risk persecution from the Taliban, delete it and they may find their only way out no longer available.

Millions of people’s lives will now be vastly different due to the regime change. Digital security feels like one thing that could have been sorted out in advance. We are yet to see exactly how Taliban 2.0 will be different to that which went before. And while the so-called War on Terror appears to be over, I fear a digital terror offensive may just be beginning…(More).

“We do not feel safe”: A Kabul-based crisis alert app struggles to protect its own employees


Q and A with Sara Wahedi by Hajira Maryam: “Ehtesab, a Kabul-based startup, emerged out of a personal security-related incident that Sara Wahedi, a former Afghan government employee, experienced in May 2018. After witnessing a suicide bomb attack firsthand, Wahedi rushed home, where she could see militants roaming the streets from her balcony. The city was put on lockdown for 12 hours and left without electricity. No one, Wahedi said, knew when the electricity would be restored or when roads would be cleared. The authorities were of little help. 

“Since that moment, I kept pondering about the idea of accountability and information provision. I jotted down a few words in different languages for accountability, namely Dari and Pashto. That was the moment the term Ehtesab came to my mind.” 

Ehtesab means “accountability” in Dari and Pashto, and the app, formally launched in March 2020, offers streamlined security-related information, including general security updates in Kabul to its users. With real-time, crowdsourced alerts, users across the city can track bomb blasts, roadblocks, electricity outages, or other problems in locations close to them. The app, which generates push notifications about nearby security risks, is supported by 20 employees working out of the company’s Kabul office, according to Wahedi. 

Despite the company’s single-minded focus on security, the Ehtesab team was caught off-guard by the sudden collapse of the Afghan government over the weekend. “It was inevitable that there would be a significant shift in governance … but we weren’t expecting the Taliban to come in within the first eight hours of the day,” Wahedi said….(More)”.

Developing a Responsible and Well-designed Governance Structure for Data Marketplaces


WEF Briefing Paper: “… extracts insights from the discussions with thought leaders and experts to serve as a point of departure for governments and other members of the global community to discuss governance structures and regulatory frameworks for Data Marketplace Service Providers (DMSPs), the primary operators and managers of data exchanges as trusted third parties, in data marketplaces and exchanges in a wide range of jurisdictions. As decision-makers globally develop data marketplace solutions specific to their unique cultural nuances and needs, this paper provides insights into key governance issues to get right and do so with global interoperability and adaptability in mind….(More)”.

Exploring city digital twins as policy tools: A task-based approach to generating synthetic data on urban mobility


Paper by Gleb Papyshev and Masaru Yarime: “This article discusses the technology of city digital twins (CDTs) and its potential applications in the policymaking context. The article analyzes the history of the development of the concept of digital twins and how it is now being adopted on a city-scale. One of the most advanced projects in the field—Virtual Singapore—is discussed in detail to determine the scope of its potential domains of application and highlight challenges associated with it. Concerns related to data privacy, availability, and its applicability for predictive simulations are analyzed, and potential usage of synthetic data is proposed as a way to address these challenges. The authors argue that despite the abundance of urban data, the historical data are not always applicable for predictions about the events for which there does not exist any data, as well as discuss the potential privacy challenges of the usage of micro-level individual mobility data in CDTs. A task-based approach to urban mobility data generation is proposed in the last section of the article. This approach suggests that city authorities can establish services responsible for asking people to conduct certain activities in an urban environment in order to create data for possible policy interventions for which there does not exist useful historical data. This approach can help in addressing the challenges associated with the availability of data without raising privacy concerns, as the data generated through this approach will not represent any real individual in society….(More)”.

Chinese web users are writing a new playbook for disaster response


Shen Lu at Protocol: Severe floods caused by torrential rains in Central China’s Henan province have killed dozens and displaced tens of thousands of residents since last weekend. In parallel with local and central governments’ disaster relief and rescue efforts, Chinese web users have organized online, using technology in novel ways to mitigate risks and rescue those who were trapped in subway cars and neighborhoods submerged in floodwaters.

Chinese web users are no strangers to digital crowdsourcing efforts. During the COVID-19 outbreak, volunteers archived censored media reports and personal stories of suffering from disease or injustice that were scattered on social media, saving them on sharable files on GitHub and broadcasting them via Telegram. Despite pervasive censorship, in times of crisis, Chinese web users have managed to keep information and communications channels open among themselves, and with the rest of the world.

Now, people in one of the most oppressive information environments in the world might be helping write the future playbook for disaster response…

In hard-hit Zhengzhou, the capital city of Henan province, tens of thousands of residents crowdsourced relief assistance over the past 48 hours through a simple shared spreadsheet powered by the Tencent equivalent of Google Sheets (Google products are banned in China). It was created by a college student to allow those awaiting rescue to log their contact and location information.

In the 36 hours that followed, droves of volunteers have logged on, vastly expanding the breadth of information that lives on the document. It now includes contact information for official and unofficial rescue teams, relief resources, shelter locations, phone-charging stations and online medical consultations. At certain points, over 200 people have edited the sheet simultaneously.

Tencent reported that by Wednesday evening Beijing time, volunteers had entered nearly 1,000 data points. The document has received over 2.5 million visits, becoming the most visited Tencent Doc ever and one of the most efficient and powerful rescue and aid platforms started and contributed by civilians.

Similar crowdsourced documents for flooding victims live elsewhere on the internet. On Shimo Docs, a cloud-based productivity suite developed by the Beijing-based startup Shimo, volunteers have aggregated relief and rescue resources’ contacts by cities and counties. These shared documents have made the rounds on social media platforms like Weibo and WeChat in the past few days….(More)”.

Big data for economic statistics


Stats Brief by ESCAP: “This Stats Brief gives an overview of big data sources that can be used to produce economic statistics and presents country examples of the use of online price data, scanner data, mobile phone data, Earth Observations, financial transactions data and smart meter data to produce price indices, tourism statistics, poverty estimates, experimental economic statistics during COVID-19 and to monitor public sentiment. The Brief is part of ESCAP’s series on the use of non-traditional data sources for official statistics….(More)”.

How can governments boost citizen-led projects?


Justin Tan at GovInsider: “The visual treat of woks tossing fried carrot cake, the dull thuds of a chopper expertly dicing up a chicken, the fragrant lime aroma of grilled sambal stingray. The sensory playgrounds of Singapore’s hawker centres are close to many citizens’ homes and hearts, and have even recently won global recognition by UNESCO.

However, the pandemic has left many hawkers facing slow business. While restaurants and fast food chains have quickly caught on to food delivery services, many elderly hawkers were left behind in the digital race.

28 year-old Singaporean M Thirukkumaran developed an online community map called “Help Our Hawkers” that provides information on digitally-disadvantaged hawkers near users’ locations, such as opening hours and stall information. GovInsider caught up with him to learn how it was built and how governments can support fellow civic hackers…

Besides creating space for civic innovation, governments can step in to give particularly promising projects a boost with their resources and influence, Thiru says.

Most community-led projects need to rely on cloud services such as AWS, which can be expensive for a small team to bear, he explains. Government subsidies or grants may help to ease the cost for digital infrastructure.

In Thiru’s case, the map needed to be rolled out quickly to be useful. He chose to build his tool with Google Maps to speed up the process, as many users are already familiar with it.

Another way that governments can help is through getting more visibility to these community-led projects with their wide reach, Thiru suggests. Community projects commonly face a “cold start” dilemma. This arises where the community tool needs data for it to be useful, but citizens also hesitate to spend time on a tool if it is not useful in the first place.

Thiru jump started his tool by contributing a few stalls on his own. With more publicity with government campaigns, the process could be sped up considerably, he shares….(More)”.

ASEAN Data Management Framework


ASEAN Framework: “Due to the growing interactions between data, connected things and people, trust in data has become the pre-condition for fully realising the gains of digital transformation. SMEs are threading a fine line between balancing digital initiatives and concurrently managing data protection and customer privacy safeguards to ensure that these do not impede innovation. Therefore, there is a motivation to focus on digital data governance as it is critical to boost economic integration and technology adoption across all sectors in the ten ASEAN Member States (AMS).
To ensure that their data is appropriately managed and protected, organisations need to know what levels of technical, procedural and physical controls they need to put in place. The categorisation of datasets help organisations manage their data assets and put in place the right level of controls. This is applicable for both data at rest as well as data in transit. The establishment of an ASEAN Data Management Framework will promote sound data governance practices by helping organisations to discover the datasets they have, assign it with the appropriate categories, manage the data, protect it accordingly and all these while continuing to comply with relevant regulations. Improved governance and protection will instil trust in data sharing both between organisations and between countries, which will then promote the growth of trade and the flow of data among AMS and their partners in the digital economy….(More)”

The Ancient Imagination Behind China’s AI Ambition


Essay by Jennifer Bourne: “Artificial intelligence is a modern technology, but in both the West and the East the aspiration for inventing autonomous tools and robots that can think for themselves can be traced back to ancient times. Adrienne Mayor, a historian of science at Stanford, has noted that in ancient Greece, there were myths about tools that helped men become godlike, such as the legendary inventor Daedalus who fabricated wings for himself and his son to escape from prison. 

Similar myths and stories are to be found in China too, where aspirations for advanced robots also appeared thousands of years ago. In a tale that appears in the Taoist text “Liezi,” which is attributed to the 5th-century BCE philosopher Lie Yukou, a technician named Yan Shi made a humanlike robot that could dance and sing and even dared to flirt with the king’s concubines. The king, angry and fearful, ordered the robot to be dismantled. 

In the Three Kingdoms era (220-280), a politician named Zhuge Liang invented a “fully automated” wheelbarrow (the translation from the Chinese is roughly “wooden ox”) that could reportedly carry over 200 pounds of food supplies and walk 20 miles a day without needing any fuel or manpower. Later, Zhang Zhuo, a scholar who died around 730, wrote a story about a robot that was obedient, polite and could pour wine for guests at parties. In the same collection of stories, Zhang also mentioned a robot monk who wandered around town, asking for alms and bowing to those who gave him something. And in “Extensive Records of the Taiping Era,” published in 978, a technician called Ma Daifeng is said to have invented a robot maid who did household chores for her master.

Imaginative narratives of intelligent robots or autonomous tools can be found throughout agriculture-dominated ancient China, where wealth flowed from a higher capacity for labor. So, stories reflect ancient people’s desire to get more artificial hands on deck, and to free themselves from intensive farm work….(More)”.