A Glossary of Platform Law and Policy Terms to Foster Legal Interoperability
Luca Belli and Nicolo Zingales
At the 2019 United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF), during the customary stocktaking meeting of the Coalition on Platform Responsibility,1 hereinafter “the Coalition”, taking place after the annual session, the main suggestion emerging from participants as a next step in the Coalition work has been the elaboration of a Glossary of Platform Law and Policy Terms, so as to provide a common language for academics, regulators and policymakers when discussing issues of platform responsibility.
In this perspective, the elaboration of this Glossary aims at providing the conceptual basis on which legal interoperability between different systems framing platform governance can be built. Through this Glossary, we aim at offering guidance on what specific platform-related concepts mean, so that different stakeholders and, particularly, policymakers may have a better understanding of such a complex set of issues, thus elaborating well-informed and, ideally, good-quality and compatible platform policies and regulations.
Importantly, this Glossary does not aim at being prescriptive, but rather at recognizing that a specific concept may have various meanings and such differences and nuances should be acknowledged and highlighted to allow stakeholders to have a more complete understanding of each issue. Indeed, the consideration of heterogeneous conceptualizations, interpretations, and approaches adopted by different (juridical) cultures holds the promise to enrich the way platform-related issues are framed by stakeholders in different countries. At the same time, this can foster the elaboration of shared or, at least, converging principles, rules and procedures by national regulators, legislators or even market players, thus facilitating legal interoperability.2 Indeed, common conceptualizations may not only inspire legislative efforts but also be used as basis on which develop cooperative and converging frameworks by national public bodies and intergovernmental organizations, while elaborating public policies, or even assist private-sector actors in the elaboration of self-regulatory instruments.
As we are fully aware of the evolving nature of many of concepts analyzed in this Glossary, we agreed that the Glossary should be considered as a “living document” that could be updated over time. As such the Glossary aims at bringing together contributions from a heterogeneous range of disciplines, stakeholder perspectives and vocabularies. Coalition stakeholders also agreed that the definitional efforts should recognize as much as possible the existence of competing and alternative views on the topic, and the Glossary contributors did their best effort to reflect such conceptual diversity in this volume.
Glossary contributors were encouraged to conceive definitions as a springboard for learning more about concepts and views, through links and references to external sources. Further reference and links to external sources will be added in the new versions of the Glossary that will be uploaded on the IGF website in the coming years, after having received and incorporated any comments arising in the platform related discussions the Coalition will organize within the IGF.
How have we organized this participatory effort?
The IGF Coalition on Platform Responsibility, as any other IGF coalition, relies on spontaneous contributions of its members and thus, the Glossary initiative was launched issuing a request for suggested term, in order to shape the Glossary structure, based on the Coalition collective intuition of which list of terms may be most useful. After the first round of suggestions took place and several Coalition members manifested interested in the Glossary project, the following action plan was shared for feedback, and subsequently implemented between May and October 2020:
- reception of expressions of interest for the development of the Glossary and participation to the Coalition session;
- consolidation of the proposed terms and circulation of a draft list of terms to be used to compose the Glossary;
- reception of feedback on the draft list and suggestion of further terms;
- development of a multistakeholder working group dedicated to the elaboration of the glossary (the Glossary Working Group) including all the individuals who expressed interest in the initiative;3
- elaboration of draft entries describing the proposed terms;
- consolidation of the draft entries into a first draft version of the glossary and request for comment on the first draft;
- consolidation of the updated version into a consolidated draft to be circulated at the IGF 2020 for further feedback from the IGF community;
- discussion of the draft at the 2020 session of the Coalition, during the IGF, and elaboration of a strategic approach aimed at maximizing the impact of the Glossary;
- a final consultation phase was organized using the IGF website as a platform for comments, between November 2020 and January 2021;
- consolidation and revision with glossary contributors and Coalition stakeholders took place until November 2021.
While this may not be the first attempt to create a glossary of platform-related terms,4 the above illustrates the uniqueness of the open and transparent bottom-up process that was followed to achieve these results, encapsulating at its core the IGF’s principles of multistakeholder collaboration. We hope that this provides a basis for much needed mutual understanding and enables more meaningful and inclusive discussion and cooperation among academics, policymakers, journalists, platform users and any other stakeholder with a keen interest in platform governance. To be continued!
About the IGF Coalition on Platform Responsibility
The following paragraphs provide a background picture of the origins of the Platform Responsibility debate at the IGF and its progression to the current state.
To start, it should be acknowledged that a core achievement of the Coalition, well beyond the IGF’s community of stakeholders, is to have coined and promoted the concept of “Platform Responsibility”.5 Such concept aims on the one hand to highlight the impact that private ordering regimes designed and implemented by platforms have on individuals’ capability to enjoy their fundamental rights, and on the other hand, to interrogate the moral, social and human rights responsibilities6 that platforms bear when setting up such regimes. Indeed, the initial goal of this Coalition was to stimulate debate and participatory analysis on the meaning of platform providers’ responsible behavior.
From the early steps, it was clear to participants that the starting point should be an analysis of the application to digital platforms of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,7 in particular their responsibility to respect Human Rights and to grant effective grievance mechanisms.8 To lay the foundations of such work, the participants to the inception meeting of the Coalition, in 2014 at the IGF in Istanbul, suggested the development of a set of recommendations on core dimensions of platform responsibility.9
The resulting “Recommendations on Terms of Service and Human Rights”10 (hereinafter “the Recommendations”) presented at the 2015 IGF demonstrated that the cross-disciplinary effort facilitated by the Coalition could lead to concrete outcomes, providing a sound response to all those arguing that the IGF is a mere talking shop, unable to achieve tangible outcomes. The Recommendations provide concrete evidence that the IGF can elaborate solid outputs, in line with the IGF mandate, which prescribes that the Forum shall “find solutions to the issues arising from the use and misuse of the Internet” as well as “identify emerging issues […] and, where appropriate, make recommendations”.11
Indeed, the Recommendations served as an inspiration for (and were annexed to) both the study on Terms of Service and Human Rights,12 co-sponsored by the Council of Europe and FGV Law School, and the 2017 outcome of the Coalition – a volume entitled “Platform regulations: how platforms are regulated and how they regulate us”, featuring research by an ample range of stakeholders.13 It also bears noting that the “platform responsibility” approach and a conspicuous number of elements of the Recommendations can be found in the Council of Europe Recommendation CM/Rec(2018)2 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the roles and responsibilities of internet intermediaries.14 Fostering this kind of multi-stakeholder and cross-institutional discussion is a core component of the vision behind the creation of the Coalition: to critically analyse challenging questions and collaborative develop potential solutions that, if deemed suitable and efficient, can inspire policymaking exercises.
The Recommendations and the 2017 volume on Platform Regulations stressed the need to advance further the Coalition’s work with two different yet complementary initiatives. First, the elaboration of concrete suggestions on how to implement the right to due process within regard to the remedies provided by online platforms’ dispute resolution mechanisms. Such goal was achieved by organising a year-long participatory process, leading to the Best Practices Platforms’ Implementation of the Right to an Effective Remedy.15 Second, the various debates, cooperative processes and research developed by the Coalition members highlighted the need for a deeper analysis going beyond the notion of platform responsibility and platform regulations, but on the very values underlying the operation of digital platforms.
Before reaching this latest phase of the coalition’ work, we discussed the nuances of the “Platform Values” debate, with a special issue of the Computer Law and Security Review, dedicated to “Platform Values: Conflicting Rights, Artificial Intelligence and Tax Avoidance”.16 This volume aimed at promoting a discussion on the multiform notion of platform value(s) and the term “value” was construed broadly to embrace a range of social, ethical and juridical values underpinning digital platforms, as well as the economic value that is generated and extracted within platform ecosystems.
Digital platforms play a central role in the digital ecosystem, shaping the structure of online as well as offline activities. They have acquired a predominant role in digital policy circles and amongst Internet scholars, due to the enormous impact that their choices, activities and self-regulatory initiatives can have on the lives of several billion individuals. This impact is poised to increase over the incoming years,17 and for this reason, we hope that this Glossary, as well as the previous work of the Coalition will positively contribute to a better understanding of the operation of digital platforms and, consequently, more accurate and convergent policy initiatives.
Belli, L. (2020). Data Protection in the BRICS Countries: Enhanced Cooperation and Convergence towards Legal Interoperability. New Media Journal. Chinese Academy of Cyberspace Studies. https://cyberbrics.info/data-protection-in-the-brics-countries-enhanced-cooperation-and-convergence-towards-legal-interoperability/.
- For further information on the Coalition, please visit the dedicated section of the Internet Governance Forum website, available at: https://www.intgovforum.org/multilingual/content/dynamic-coalition-on-platform-responsibility-dcpr.
- For an analysis of the concept of legal interoperability, see Weber (2014). For a discussion of how this concept can be applied to foster compatible net neutrality and data protection frameworks, see Belli & Foditsch (2016) and Belli (2020). An noteworthy approach to the concept of legal interoperability is offered by the works of Internet and Jurisdiction project. See <https://www. internetjurisdiction.net>.
- The members of the working group are (in alphabetical order): Luca Belli, Vittorio Bertola, Yasmin Curzi de Mendonça, Giovanni De Gregorio, Rossana Ducato, Luã Fergus Oliveira da Cruz, Catalina Goanta, Tamara Gojkovic, Terri Harel, Cynthia Khoo, Stefan Kulk, Paddy Leerssen, Laila Neves Lorenzon, Chris Marsden, Enguerrand Marique, Michael Oghia, Milica Pesic, Courtney Radsch, Roxana Radu, Konstantinos Stylianou, Rolf H. Weber, Chris Wiersma, Monika Zalnieriute and Nicolo Zingales.
- See, for example, the Stanford Glossary, available at: http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/blog/2018/01/glossary-internet-content-blocking-tools.
- See Belli, L., De Filippi, P., Zingales, N. (2014).
- See the Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, John Ruggie, Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework, UN Human Rights Council Document A/HRC/17/31, 21 March 2011. Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/GuidingPrinciplesBusinessHR_EN.pdf.
- See Belli, L., De Filippi, P., Zingales, N. (2015). Recommendations on terms of service & human rights, Outcome Document n°1. Available at: https://tinyurl.com/toshr2015.
- See Zingales N. and Belli L. (2014). Report of the “inception” meeting at the 2014 IGF. Available at: https://www.intgovforum.org/multilingual/index.php?q=filedepot_download/4905/631.
- 10 See Belli L., De Filippi P. and Zingales N. (2015).
- See Tunis Agenda (2005) available at: https://www.itu.int/net/wsis/docs2/tunis/off/6rev1.html.
- See Venturini et al. (2016).
- See Belli and Zingales (2017).
- See http://bit.ly/CoEinternetintermediaries.
- The Best Practices can be also found on the IGF website .
- A pre-print version of the Special Issue can be accessed at <https://www.intgovforum.org/multilingual/index.php?q=filedepot_download/4905/1900>.
- See, as an instance, Crémer, de Montjoye and Schweitzer (2019); Eyler-Driscoll, Schechter and Patiño (2019); BRICS Competition Law and Policy Centre (2019).