In an interview with Infobae, researcher Aynne Kokas, author of Trafficking Data, explains how the exploitation of digital information, especially by China, is uses for commercial and political gain
Countries like Japan, India, Australia, South Korea and the European Union have national data protections
“How is user data protected? Where is it stored? These may seem like technical questions, unworthy of the attention of the average person. However, global data flows between the United States and China make consumer data protection issuesare not only a national issue but also an international one that shapes the relations between these two countries.”
Aynne Kokas is the CK Yen Professor at the Miller Center and Associate Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia, United States. Kokas' research examines relations between Chinese-American media and technology. Her latest book, Trafficking Data: How China Is Winning the Battle for Digital Sovereignty,explores the international consequences of corporate America and the US government ignoring data regulation in favor of the explosive and unchecked growth of Silicon Valley, partly causing China to emerge as the main shaper of global governance of information and technology.
Drawing on years of internal fieldwork in the United States and China, Kokas shows how data exploitation is used for commercial and political gain in US-China trade and makes recommendations to mitigate economic and security concerns. that result from this phenomenon.
From TikTok to the most popular gaming platforms, in an interview with Infobae Aynne Kokas explains why it is important to understand how tech companies collect our data and how the Chinese state is capitalizing on this data stream for political gain.
-How do you define data trafficking and how does it occur?
–data trafficking is the non-consensual movement of extracted data by corporations for government use. The key ways this occurs is through unclear terms of serviceand consent agreements where user data is collected by corporations and consumer data, but also through things like farming platforms or other types of industry platforms. Then, through legal frameworks in places like China,that require the exchange of user data. There is a movement and pressure to share that data that is collected through agreements made by corporations with government regulators in the Chinese context, which is what I focus on. This becomes really significant because the Chinese government can perform audits of national security data, which allows for large-scale acquisition of user data and large-scale review of user data. There is also something called Civil Military Merger, which allows the Chinese government to request data from corporations for the purpose of military growth.
This is a risk for three reasons. . The first is surveillance of individual users , which feels like the most immediate type of concern. Next is the ability to develop more robust competitive products that we could use in an age of AI competition for both economic competition. But also a lot of the tools or capabilities developed through games, for example, can also be used in a military context and we're seeing this through things like Tencent, one of the main investors in games. And finally it is being able to monitor social patterns and develop disinformation campaignsmore specific or even, in the case of TikTok, feeding certain types of information through the algorithm.
“Trafficking Data: How China Is Winning the Battle for Digital Sovereignty”, by Aynne Kokas
-How is a user's data exploited, for example, in TikTok?
-The wide range of user data becomes meaningful. It includes everything from your biometrics, your facial scans, how you interact with the app, also downloading the app can collect information about everything that happens on your phone. And then, of course, your preferences, interests. Now this information is not particularly interesting or useful for monitoring or spying on most of the people there. We see sort of extraterritorial efforts to police Chinese citizens, particularly people from China who have expatriated to other countries and we see this happening not only through monitoring of apps, but also through things like Chinese stations that have been opening outside of China.
-Who are the main players in data traffic today?< /b>
–Russia, for example, has tried, as you know, to build its own social platforms even just for local use, but it hasn't been as successful. The reason why China is the most significant example is for two reasons. One, they have a significant ability to collect user data because there are very popular platforms. And there are great frameworks out there to transfer user data very neatly. Now we can be critical, and I think we should be very critical of the ways in which US platforms have collected and mined data globally. We have seen that the United States government has worked with technology corporations to collect data about users. But we've also seen in parallel the kind of failure of the US government to regulate the country's technology platforms, even at a very basic level. That's why when we look at the mining of user data for widespread use by governments, the United States is not necessarily the most significant example of this, even though Silicon Valley companies were pioneers in much of this extractive surveillance capitalism.
-And how can countries protect our data and their digital sovereignty?
< p class="paragraph">-I think the first step is to understand that digital sovereignty exists. The ways that people use platforms for important services, including things like payments or communication, become essential to thinking about what sovereignty in a nation really is, and I think that's a disconnect that we see in many cases. Now the other important issue from a public policy standpoint is developing national data privacy regulations. For example, TikTok has different terms of service in the European Union than in the United States because they are obeying local laws when those local laws don't exist. So it's very hard to really protect user data.
-Which countries have protections in place to safeguard individual and of course government data. And what are these protections?
-Countries such as Japan, India, Australia, South Korea and those of the European UnionThey have national data protections. Countries like India have data localization requirements, which means that data must be stored internally in that country. India even has a digital citizenship platform where users have a kind of national digital identity. So there are different levels of digital sovereignty and one of the challenges is that this requires high levels of investment, expertise and technical capacity. And this becomes particularly challenging for countries that do not have those capabilities.
Examples of security risks abound data that users may not even know they are taking
-So why is it so hard for the US to regulate if it has these capabilities?
-This is a great question and I spent a lot of time researching it. And one thing that became clear from talking to US officials is that the unbridled power of the US tech sector is a driver of national and international power. Therefore, it is very difficult to regulate because there are really significant financial interests at stake to maintain the existing status quo. In Europe, Japan or Australia, although they are developed democracies, they do not have a strong lobbying of Silicon Valley technology companies as a kind of existential force.
– Is it possible to have social platforms, pay through apps, be part of the digital world without our personal data being exposed?
-I don't want to terrorize individual users . I think it's important for individual users to pay attention to the data they share and the platforms they use. But I don't think they need to worry about the Chinese government tracking them down, unless they're dissidents or Chinese citizens with financial concerns, you know, or things like that. Now, I think it's essential and really important that people work with their elected officials, work in unions, work in community organizations for digital rights and to make user data more fair and transparent.