The digital divide

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Digitalisation is one of the biggest transformations in our societies. Executive director at IT for Change, Parminder Jeet Singh states that social and economical inequalities are causing and increasing a digital divide. IT for Change in India is an important strategic partner for the FGG Alliance regarding the issues concerned with digitalisation and gender.

IT for Change (India) on the issue of digital security and inequal access

When defining internet security, we are often focusing on the privacy side of things, but the definition should be so much broader according to Parminder Jeet Singh, executive director of IT for Change. “Of course, there is the tech side of things, but there are also social and economic aspects causing a digital divide. Right now, there are no rules or regulations for the online world and therefore there are no rights. We should change this.”

A digital divide

“First of all, there is the tech side of things, where people fall behind because they don’t have access to computers or internet. That issue is being addressed right now by plenty of organizations. But it’s only one side of things, because there is also the issue of small companies not getting a fair deal, because they have to compete with big platforms like Amazon, Booking of Uber who are controlling the online market.”

The issue of data

“Next to that, there is the issue of data. Data is like the gold or the oil in the old days: whoever finds it, gets to keep it. There are no institutions to regulate this, so it is the big companies from a few countries like the United States and China who are monopolizing data and artificial intelligence. Developing countries, but also the European Union, are only just realizing that they are losing their ‘gold’ and they are eager to do something about it.”

“There is also a social issue with our data: most of them are biased and based on the average white male. If we use these data for applications regulating our health for instance, it’s not going to work as well. We have to debias the world’s data, do research on gender and ethics, but also legislate. What constitutes online violence and what doesn’t? These matters are not going to be solved by tech companies alone.”

Protection by legislation

“There are two ways of responding to these issues right now. We either think we can live without tech or we simply accept the bad that comes with it. But tech is not going away: we are becoming very digital. For the next generation it is already impossible to live without google for instance. So, we need to accept that there is going to be a lot of tech and data surrounding us and security is an important matter in that realm.”

“If someone breaks into our home, we call the police. If someone breaks into our digital domain and uses our data, there is nowhere to go and so we seem to accept this as part of digitalization. But our digital privacy is just as important as our physical one. If I would like to know what data google is saving of me and what my ‘digital identity’ represented in such data looks like, who do I turn to? And who is enforcing that? You cannot make somebody share data unless you have rights written down in regulations and laws enforced by institutions.”

“So, the response should perhaps be in the founding of an international institution protecting our digital rights, like the international institutions for other human rights. There should also be national institutions protecting the data of their people. So, the data of Dutch citizens, for instance, should actually be stored and protected in the Netherlands, falling under Dutch law. There should also be some sort of security testing that results in security labels and certificates. If you buy a car, for instance, you know it’s tested and it complies with safety regulations. For data there is no such thing.”


“A crisis like Covid19 can speed up the whole process. People start to ask questions about health issues, like: who’s health is it, so who’s data is it? Once you start mapping a person’s whereabouts for 6 months in an app, you map out their entire life. You know where they go, who they meet, what they do. We are suddenly aware of the fact that we don’t have a lock on our digital door and that this can change our social and economic situation dramatically.”

“Another issue that the Covid19 crisis has brought to light is the dependence on online platforms like Amazon. The time is coming where there is only Amazon and Uber and we need to ask ourselves what that means for their responsibility and obligations.”

“We also started to work from home in these times, but we have no idea what implications that brings for the future. Maybe your boss is tracking if you put in enough hours and what the quality and intensity of your work is, solely based on data. But we are not machines, so this can cause a huge amount of stress for the workers. And then there is the question of ownership: who owns those data? You or your boss?”

“Right now, we are underestimating how this will frame our society. We think we have choices, but what if a delivery platform or a service like Zoom becomes an essential infrastructure, like roads? In that case there is no choice but to use it.”


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