Europe whips out tool to get a grip on govts jerking around the web

Keep up with rules, regulations and laws affecting your internet

The European Commission (EC) has published a beta version of its new internet governance tool, called the Global Internet Policy Observatory (GIPO).

GIPO has been a year in the making after it signed a contract back in December 2014 to create a tool that would "address the main challenges of the multi-stakeholder governance of the Internet: a combination of topic complexity, information overload and fragmentation of information between policy silos and in different institutional levels."

Announcing the launch, the EC noted that the world of internet governance was rapidly becoming larger and more complex and noted that the hope of the GIPO is to "keep up with these changes" by providing "access to informed and evidence-based discussions."

In particular, it noted, it hopes that the GIPO Observatory will "help increase the participation in policy discussions of those players with fewer resources and less easy access to information. This includes NGOs and stakeholders established in less well-resourced areas of the world."

The result appears to be not much more than a link aggregating and tagging system, where blog posts and tweets from specific accounts or mentioning certain keywords are stored, automatically tagged, and then put into a search engine with redirects to the original article. In other words, a Google with a focus on internet governance.

While this is useful in theory, we played around with the beta and the search algorithms are clearly quite basic. The information stored is not particularly selective, and it is listed almost consecutively.

There also appears to be little or no manual curation, so its usefulness for developing internet policy is questionable: policymakers will want the most authoritative, pertinent and insightful links to appear first.

Even though the GIPO has pulled in just one month of data (mid-Jan to mid-Feb), it appears to be reflecting the problem of too much information rather than finding a solution to it.


That said, the GIPO remains superior to other efforts by large organizations and governments to influence internet policy and governance discussions.

ICANN's NetMundial Initiative was announced around the same time as GIPO and has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars creating a graphical "solutions map" that serves no practical purpose alongside a "collaboration platform" that has received just six proposals.

In terms of offline efforts, the one big internet governance conference, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), is still struggling with its purpose and usefulness although it has become an annual event that most internet governance policymakers will attend.

China is trying to create its own version of the IGF with its annual conference – the World Internet Conference – but it has been beset with concerns over its pro-censorship agenda to the extent that it prevented Western journalists from attending and sparked controversy when ICANN's outgoing CEO agreed to front its "high-level advisory committee."

And in the middle ground lies the Global Commission on Internet Governance (GCIG) – a collaboration between pseudo-governmental arms of the UK and Canada – which hopes to become an influential voice through research papers and thought-leadership.

It has offered a mixed bag in the past year, with several excellent papers on issues such as pragmatic privacy solutions, some eye-catching but limited papers on issues such as cybersecurity; and one or two poor, blatant lobbying efforts disguised as research.

Same issue

In short, the nebulous internet governance world remains exactly that, with the introduction of the EC's new GIPO service.

Why is such an important topic so under-served with quality solutions? Money. There isn't much of it in this field and what there is of it is spent on flying people around to small conferences in an effort to sway the decision-makers.

This issue has also arisen with the GIPO. Its opening announcement notes that "while the GIPO tool was initiated with initial seed funding from the European Commission, the focus over the last year has been on outreach and engagement with interested and committed stakeholders."

Just in case you didn't catch the code, it is reiterated later on: "We are now opening a wider public engagement phase and we are looking for more partnership and cooperation."

Or in other words, we need money to keep this thing going. That leaves us with a crucial question: will people see enough value in it to put money in? ®

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