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The Digital Age: Exploring the Role of Standards

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In recent years, digital technologies have become increasingly ubiquitous in our everyday lives.

These technologies have transformed the way we socialize, shop, work and entertain ourselves. In terms of its economic implications, the digital economy currently facilitates billions of connections daily to enable business activities and transactions transnationally that were previously impossible due to geographical distance, logistical inefficiency or political barriers.

While such advancements have increased convenience and efficiency, the growing pervasiveness of the digital realm and its encroachment on activities previously conducted in person or by humans have also raised a host of novel concerns. “Surveillance capitalism” business models have reduced privacy and security for people by monitoring their online activities and commodifying their data. Algorithms used to influence behaviours or make important decisions are raising alarming ethical concerns. Skewed digital platform business models and their all-encompassing Terms of Service (ToS) agreements have led to a handful of powerful companies monopolizing many important areas – often usurping powers previously monopolized by governments.

In this context, where traditional laws and regulations are all-to-often proving inadequate, it is obvious that there is need for new forms of governance that can effectively address these novel challenges.

This report discusses three important areas of the digital economy and the opportunity for standards-based solutions in each:

  • Data governance: The widespread use of data has raised concerns around its collection, use and protection.
  • Algorithms and AI: The use of algorithms for decision-making is spreading across sectors, including areas such as immigration application processing, predictive policing and the pricing of goods and services online.
  • Digital platforms: In many sectors of the economy, digital platforms have reduced transaction costs, facilitated connections and increased flexibility and opportunity.

Standards development organizations (SDOs) have the opportunity to play an important role due to their credibility, international connections and ability to bring together expertise from diverse sectors. Moreover, in addition to developing standards-based solutions to the pressing problems that have accompanied the rise of the digital economy, these new challenges also provide SDOs with the opportunity to modernize their processes for the digital age.
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