Youth Internet Governance Forum Malaysia (YIGF) – Day 2

Mental Health & Cyberspace

Speaker: Dr. Chua Sook Ning

Dr. Chua Sook Ning, Professor of Psychology from Nanyang Technological University presented on Mental Health & Cyberspace. She started off by having everyone understand the realities of mental health.

While there have been efforts in raising awareness, it continues to have negative connotations in society. This partly stems from that mental health is not deemed as important as physical health. Mental health, just like physical health, requires a continuous process to reflect and maintained.

“Very few of us consider how many hours we should sleep… We never consider the choices we make to improve mental health.”

Dr. Chua Sook Ning

Dr. Chua stated that humans crave intimacy and community. The social media as a 21st century global village has complicated that. Social media gives a perception of close intimacy to someone online. Easy access to social media has been proven to increase level of loneliness. The problem, however, does not stem from social media alone. Social media is a force for good with a good support network, but it becomes a problem when it becomes a tool to escape from reality without a supportive offline community.

Offline loneliness – that is a person socially isolated in real life – causes online problems. It becomes a spiral as escapism increases loneliness and make the internet into an addiction.

This brings to another set of problems. The internet may be useful in creating online communities, but it also creates social bubbles. This allows the vulnerable to be exploited as youths generally do not take protective steps. Furthermore, connections made between the vulnerable has been made easier through algorithms. This vicious cycle of networking encourages isolation amongst the like-minded. Unintentionally, these networks can create new norms in self-harm. This becomes a domino effect with disastrous consequences.

Dr. Chua thinks that many of the immediate solutions are just band-aid and only temporary. The solutions have to conceptualise the problems properly. It becomes a burden of responsibility for us to look out for distressed friends. But, she conceded that it may be emotionally draining to do so. Hence, it is advisable to always seek help–professional help.

My Data, or No Data

Speaker: Isaac Adams from The IO Foundation

Many would argue that data privacy is a necessary trade-off for convenience. Even the speaker, Isaac Adams, believes so. You may be uncomfortable with Google tracking your location, purchases, or even physical appearance, but you still can’t live without Google’s services. 

However, those shreds of convenience alone does not justify the grossly excessive amount of data being collected about us. This was the key message that Mr. Adams was trying to convey through this session.

To illustrate his point, Mr. Adams separated the participants for an activity, in which we collected labelled popsicle sticks from around the room. 

The popsicle sticks in the picture above are supposed to represent only one portion of the sheer amount of types of data that can be interpreted from your online activity. When put together, these little bits of data can build an eerily comprehensive picture of your overall identity. Whoever is mining and processing your data can now interpret your identity, and, in the words of Mr. Adams, use your identity against you.

Much of the session was spent on discussing the methods in which user data (and identity) is used according to the interests of another party, and not the user. 

For example, the accumulation of massive databases offers a capitalist advantage to large companies. Your online activity is used in order to build a consumer profile for you. There are third parties out there defining your consumer preferences, targeting you with customised online advertisements, denying you part of your agency as a consumer. In a way, your past choices are used to constrain your future choices. 

Data can be used to build political advantage as well. The sheer amount of information that you divulge when filling out forms at government offices has to be transferred into online databases. Mr. Adams asserted that the collection of such data can be a good thing when it is used to inform efficient policy-making. It can also be a bad thing if your data is used in alternative ways. Your personal data can be used to assess your social background, estimate your actions and beliefs, build voter profiles, and deliver micro voter campaigns. Essentially, biases become coded into the system. The next global war may very well be a digital war, involving troll farms, political flame wars, and mass online thefts of identity.

Mr. Adams drew an interesting analogy between rain clouds and data clouds. When a cloud gets heavy, it rains. When the data cloud grows denser and denser with our personal information, the incentive for third parties to exploit it becomes increasingly large. Mr. Adams offered the dark web as proof that personal information can be accessed via data breaches, then sold and used for all sorts of purposes even more malicious than outlined above.

In order to resolve this insecurity of data, Mr. Adams calls for more horizontal communication between the tech community and the policy-making community. 

Mr. Adams lamented that current data laws lack comprehensive technical coverage or global applicability. For example, Malaysia’s Personal Data Protection Act 2010 (PDPA) guarantees you the right to take legal action against breaches of personal data, but only if the data was both processed locally and transacted commercially. If an entity was collecting your data in a non-commercial context (eg. the government, political parties), they are not legally required to tell you when your data has been breached. This act has also not been amended since 2010, implying that its scope is limited to the digital landscape of a decade ago. It, thus, becomes obvious that data laws need to be regularly updated to match the exponential rate at which the internet and technology grows in complexity, with new policy and law drafts buttressed with input from the tech community.

Conversely, tech communities need to be engaged in human rights discourses, in order to ensure that everyone in the community understands the social implications of whatever they innovate. Mr. Adams opined that data privacy shouldn’t lie fully within the personal responsibility of the user. Instead, ‘privacy by design’ (eg. strict encryption standards, data encapsulation, and the usage of distributed ledger technologies) should be an intrinsic feature of tech infrastructure as well, so as to guarantee the systemic privacy of the user. It is imperative that we don’t produce another lizard Zuck man who cares little for the rights of their user base.

“The Eye of [REDACTED] the Terrible, few could endure.” -Source: Youtube

The Next Generation of Public Policy for the 4th Industrial Revolution

Speaker: Eshaan Menon

It is practically a given that there will always be a gap between public policy (PP) and socio-economic reality. This remains true for Malaysia–policymakers have not dealt with the shifts in the socio-economic landscape (as brought about by the advent of the 4th Industrial Revolution) as progressively as is ideally.

The speaker, Eshaan Menon, identified Malaysia’s informal/gig economy as an example of a current policy challenge. The Malaysian informal economy is huge. With the increasing dominance of gig-based companies such as Grab, Foodpanda, and Airbnb, the size of the informal economy will only get larger.  This means an increasing percentage of the Malaysian workforce will be working without receiving any employment benefits, and protected only by broad labour laws. 

The growing size of the informal economy implies the need for labour law amendments specific to the gig economy. It is a severe injustice to deny informal workers their rights and welfare given to employees in other sectors. However, Malaysian progress in this field has been lacking. Mr. Menon opined that this is due in part to parliamentary members’ relative lack of real-life exposure to the gig economy.

Workers outside of the informal economy are vulnerable to changing economic realities as well. The advent of machine learning, big data, and A.I. will revolutionise many fields. Actual people in jobs such as driving and delivery, customer service, and plain data transcription and analysis may easily find themselves replaced by A.I.. Even careers in the finance and banking services industry may grow more obsolete due to fintech advancements (e.g. smart contracts and distributed ledger technologies (DLTs)).

Mr. Menon also proposed that the field of quantum computing be contemplated when assessing the future state of the data economy. The emergence of quantum computing enables data processing on a much larger scale than that able to be performed by classical computers. As the technology becomes adopted by commercial companies on a wider scale, the demand for data will become larger. Thus, as data technology develops, the value of data itself will only get higher.

Just Follow the Law lah….

Unfortunately, Malaysian laws remain inadequate to keep pace with the growing gig economy. Mr. Menon illustrated the 4 main legal apparatus the government can use, namely: Personal Data Protection Act 2010, Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission Act 1998, Consumer Protection Act 1999 and the new digital services tax.  

The PDPA provides insufficient protection as it covers only commercial transactions. That means, theoretically, companies can justify their use of user’s metadata on claiming non-commercial use. The MCMC is problematic as some of its provisions that governs ‘offensive content’ can be construed arbitrarily.  He opined that Malaysia can take legal cues from the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation 2016 (GDPR).

Mr. Menon proposed five public policy options that may see increasing presence in future mainstream policy discourses.

  • Data dividends – profits from data selling should be distributed to the actual “owners” of that data, i.e. the user. However, this would have the effect of increasing production costs, making it much more difficult for smaller companies to sustain profits.
  • Higher digital tax – Malaysia’s digital tax is levied on foreign digital service providers. The taxable percentage currently stands at 6%; given the high profit margins of many digital companies, there is much room for this percentage to increase (Mr. Menon, a CEO of a digital company, suggested ~20%). The tax could also be extended to local service providers as well. However, an increase in the size/scope of the digital tax may only lead to higher prices for digital services in Malaysia. 
  • UBI (aka Andrew Yang’s freedom dividend) – compensation for job losses as a result of job automation. An incredibly expensive policy to implement in Malaysia, far larger than the Malaysian fiscal budget. Perhaps part of the funds for UBI could come from digital companies’ profits. Another suggestion is expanding the current Bantuan Sara Hidup to middle-aged unemployment due to digitalisation.
  • Gig economy protection – extend employment protection in terms of social benefits and pensions to gig workers. 
  • Technical skills training – classic policy option to ensure that ~no one gets left behind~. May be difficult to implement, as older citizens  may find it more difficult to pick up the highly specialised digital skills required for future jobs. After all, not everyone can learn coding.

The session concluded with a fun-filled mock parliamentary session to craft a Digital Policy Bill. 

No one yelled and everyone agreed. Absolutely therapeutic

Closing comments by the writers

Timothy: The forum offers a fascinating insight into the digital status quo in Malaysia. It touched on a range of issues from diplomatic security and digital accessibility to mental health and data privacy. There was a diverse range of panelists drawing from various socioeconomic backgrounds – from advocacy organisations to pastors. It has actually got me interested in digital governance legislation.

Xindee: The forum was very dense, engaging, and genuinely informative! The speakers I met were passionate and approachable as well (hella rare combo). High praise :’((((( <3 <3 <3  must be given to the organising committee’s efforts in social/geographical inclusivity by providing free transport and accommodation to participants from outside the Klang Valley, including East Malaysia. Definitely would consider attending future YIGFs.

Xin Dee and Timothy

Written by Timothy Chan and Xin Dee

Stay opinionated, stay unbothered.

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