The last day at the WSIS Forum 2017 featured discussions of topics such as access and connectivity, emerging technologies, cybersecurity, and trust.
If used wisely, information and communications technologies (ICTs) can improve the quality and life and contribute to sustainable development.
They enable new innovative business models, facilitate access to health and education services, improve energy efficiency (session 337), mitigate climate change, and address global e-waste challenges, among others (session 373). For this potential to be fully explored, all stakeholders need to work together to address existing barriers, such as the digital divide. The digital divide is a complex issue, and addressing it requires action on multiple levels: infrastructure availability, affordability of access, awareness about why and how to use ICTs, and increased local content. Relevant local content encourages individuals to use the Internet, and it is important to engage local communities, and especially young people, in the creation of such content (session 352). When it comes to multilingualism, innovations in the Domain Name Systems – such as the Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) – have an important role to play (session 345).
The deployment of community networks is increasingly seen as a viable solution to bringing connectivity to local communities with accessibility problems. The value of such networks rests mainly in the fact that they are built with the engagement of community members, who are then encouraged to act not only as content consumers, but also content providers.
The existence of an adequate regulatory and policy framework is also important in bridging the connectivity gap, and many countries face challenges in this regard. Examples of such challenges include the long duration of licensing procedures for telecom operators, the lack of harmonisation of rules at regional level, the lack of funding opportunities for small and medium enterprises, and the absence of a competitive environment offering equal opportunities to small and large telecom operators and Internet service providers (session 338).
Digitisation should go beyond simple connectivity and have an impact across the entire economy. For this to happen, countries could benefit from having a clear designation of a body responsible for digitisation, as well as from collaboration across governmental agencies and departments, and appropriate policy frameworks (session 339).
Emerging technologies have a significant potential to advance the development agenda. Quantum computing, one of the main trends in ICT innovation, can boost artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning techniques (session 388), which, in turn, can be used to identify solutions for the world’s biggest challenges (such as poverty, climate change, and hunger). Internet of Things (IoT) applications such as smart cities and smart homes are one example in this regard. On the other hand, the big data generated by the IoT and the Internet of Everything can also play a role in monitoring the implementation of the SDGs. But there are also challenges to be considered, especially when it comes to the security of IoT and AI systems, and the protection of personal data processed by these systems (session 349).
E-commerce is also a driver of development. It offers opportunities for consumers and businesses, but it also brings challenges. One of these challenges is the so-called ‘e-com divide’: while more and more people use e-commerce, those companies that are not present online risk being left behind (session 345).
Issues of trust, safety, and security can become barriers to achieving sustainable development through ICTs. Violations of privacy and cyber-attacks are among the major concerns of Internet users, and the main areas where action is needed (session 345). Building trust is something that requires action from all stakeholders. Users should be aware that their data is not completely secure online, and should be able to take measures to secure their data. Online platforms should ensure that personal data is only used for its intended purposes, while also keeping their terms of services and privacy policies easy to comprehend, and updating users on changes to these terms. Governments should put in place at least one regulatory body to address issues of privacy, data protection, and security (session 407).
Collaborative security approaches are essential for addressing cybersecurity issues and enhancing trust on the Internet. Collaborative security involves, among other aspects, collective responsibility and collaboration among stakeholders, respect for human rights, the preservation of the fundamental properties of the Internet (open standards, free innovation, etc.), and global approaches and local actions (session 343).
Bridging the gender digital divide is a way to promote the social and economic inclusion of girls and women. But connectivity alone will not solve the problem. It is necessary to provide incentives for women to be online, such as content that is relevant to them (session 329). Moreover, we need to build safer online spaces for women before exploring modalities for empowering them to use online tools. Cultural differences must be taken into account when devising solutions in this area (session 345). The rights of persons with disabilities should also be more carefully considered when it comes to access to ICTs and online information, and governments, the technical community, and civil society should work together to address accessibility issues (session 340).
One area of concern in today’s digitised society is related to the challenges that media and journalism face online. Journalism has lost the control to define and defend news, as social media provides strong alternatives to mainstream media. The issue of fake news is an example in this regard, and solutions to address it include educating the audience (media literacy), raising ethical standards using verification and fact checking, and changing the algorithms employed by online platforms (session 360).
The WSIS Stocktaking and WSIS Prizes session and the Closing Ceremony provided an overview of the forum in numbers: more than 2500 participants attended the forum; over 600 projects from around the world were submitted for the WSIS Stocktaking 2017; 467 projects were submitted for the WSIS Prize; 90 selected projects showcased the linkages between the WSIS Action Lines and the SDGs. Stakeholders were encouraged to continue their contributions to the WSIS process, and a call was made for more outreach aimed at engaging people from underserved communities and youth.