Since the Committee’s inception in 2019, members have called for the establishment of a high-level authority to “provide planning and guidance” to spur further advances in a society that has long embraced the digital economy. In 2020, the Committee continued to track progress on the matter while also suggesting interim measures to ease the transition. Last year the Committee extended advance congratulations to the Taiwan government on its decision to establish a Ministry of Digital Development (MODD) to promote and develop Taiwan’s digital industry.
The Committee observes that in the absence of an MODD, Taiwan has continued to experience high-profile tensions between digital and traditional industries, including those involving car-hailing platform Uber and conventional taxi services, homestay APP Airbnb and hotels, and fintech companies and physical banks and other financial institutions. Those tensions have stemmed from a misunderstanding of how the digital economy works, rigid bureaucracy and digital-averse policy-making, local industry protectionism, and slow acceptance of digital transformation – all compounded by the lack of a dedicated authority to support digital development. The Committee hopes that the MODD will not only provide its unwavering support behind the promotion and inclusion of new digital products and services into the fabric of society today, but also be able to revisit past decisions and inconsistencies by other agencies that may have delayed, if not damaged, Taiwan’s digital advancement.
The Committee also hopes that, in line with the spirit of the MODD, the government will offer guidelines to encourage government agencies to promote digital approaches, and to commit to a multi-stakeholder collaboration to support the news ecosystem and defend against digital disinformation.
Suggestion 1: Provide the MODD with a mandate to promote a more open, less restrictive digital economy.
The Committee applauds the government’s progress toward establishing the MODD. The proposal for the new ministry is designed to achieve the goals of coordinating Taiwan’s digital development, better managing the digital economy, creating reasonable market competition, and allowing digitalization to flourish.
We also recognize that there are many challenges ahead for the new ministry in terms of aligning everyone involved in embracing and promoting digitalization. In recent years, tensions have arisen between innovative digital development and the more traditional thinking and practices of industry and government. One prominent example is the government’s misclassification of gig workers who partner with online delivery platforms as employees, rather than the more appropriate category of independent contractors. To chart the way forward, we would like to propose some priority areas for the new ministry to consider once it is established. We view these suggestions as fundamental to providing a welcome environment for digital innovation and development.
1.1 Review regulations concerning digital development and related businesses. The establishment of the MODD presents a great opportunity to undertake a comprehensive review of Taiwan’s legal framework for digital development and internet services. A constructive and tech-friendly framework for everyone involved in the digital economy ecosystem would encourage businesses of all sizes to invest in innovation and explore new areas of digital transformation with the aim of improving community welfare.
However, there has historically been a lack of consistency in how the laws and regulations in Taiwan are interpreted and enforced. Regulations promulgated by different agencies are sometimes incompatible with or negatively impact one another. Some deviate from international best practices and models that have proven to be effective for digital transformation.
This has inevitably caused confusion regarding the liabilities of service providers and has made businesses less willing to build or provide innovative products and services for the Taiwan market. The Committee therefore recommends that the new ministry, in coordination with other government agencies, review and assess the creation, interpretation, and enforcement of existing regulations concerning the development of the digital economy in order to foster and strengthen Taiwan’s future development.
1.2 Develop national data strategies. Such strategies can contribute to unleashing the potential of data to help the economy and society, while effectively protecting privacy and intellectual property and providing security against data theft or abuse. The central role of data in digitalization requires a high-level and strategic policy perspective that can balance multiple objectives. Some policies addressing data issues already exist in Taiwan, including those related to open government data, personal data protection, and cybersecurity, among others.
Building on this foundation, we suggest that the newly established MODD develop consolidated data strategies as part of a comprehensive, coherent, and internationally interoperable data approach while addressing the many issues regarding data governance, such as cross-border data flow and the proliferation of AI. The Committee is keen to build a direct and meaningful dialogue mechanism with the MODD and related authorities to support this approach with the aim of bringing Taiwan’s economy to the next level digitally.
1.3 Act as coordinator, rather than regulator. The nature of services provided by emerging businesses in the digital economy is often broad and can encompass multiple existing sectors. This is particularly true for businesses (usually digital platforms) that focus primarily on the digitalization of a traditional industry. These companies therefore sometimes find it difficult to determine which government body is considered the competent authority for their industry.
In the past, a number of online platforms were required to register, obtain licenses, and be regulated as the very industry their services aim to digitalize. This created confusion and hindered potential growth as the operations and compliance requirements for platforms and traditional licensed businesses are often very different. There is simply no one-size-fits-all solution.
We are not suggesting that the MODD become a designated regulator. Instead, we recommend that it take on the role of coordinator, especially when no authority can be identified for emerging businesses. With the assistance of the MODD, we trust that digital transformation can move in a positive direction.
Suggestion 2: Continue the commitment to strengthening multi-stakeholder collaboration to combat digital disinformation.
The Committee is encouraged by the Taiwan government’s recognition of the ongoing efforts made by web-based businesses in leading the fight against disinformation. During meetings held by the National Development Council to discuss our 2020 White Paper issues, the National Communications Commission (NCC) acknowledged member companies’ great accomplishments in offering and implementing solutions to disinformation and other critical issues in Taiwan, such as public health. These efforts, which involve promoting digital literacy, enhancing verification skills, and sharing digital tools to curb disinformation, have been carried out in partnership with third-party organizations in Taiwan. The NCC’s positive reinforcement echoes similar sentiments shared publicly by Taiwan’s government leaders. While it may not have been obvious then, it is clear now that organically formed multi-stakeholder collaborations between members of civil society, online platforms, and government are an attainable, realistic, and effective way to combat digital disinformation while maintaining protection of free speech. In this way, Taiwan has been able to consistently maintain its status as one of the most democratic countries in the world. With these fundamentals, Taiwan is on its way to becoming a regional and global champion in finding solutions to the spread of disinformation.
To add to the current momentum and think ahead about methods to address new ways in which disinformation is disseminated, trust must be sustained. This includes trust that online platforms will commit to improving best practices to produce safe and reliable products and services; trust that civil society will continue to monitor and raise awareness of issues; and trust that government or government proxies will not resort to coercive policy measures and overreach that violates democratic principles of free speech.
Industry leaders are in the best position to determine realistic practices and partnerships that ensure trust and safety on digital platforms. Such practices encompass essential concepts such as supporting a healthy news ecosystem, delivering trustworthy and helpful information to users, and fighting piracy and illegal content – all of which are necessary for digital platforms to serve society in a responsible and useful way.
Anticipating the restructuring of the current government landscape through the upcoming establishment of the MODD and other departmental changes at the NCC, the Committee firmly stands by the partnerships created by multiple stakeholders and asks that those efforts not be interrupted by government reorganization or unjustified regulatory action. The government should continue to allow non-partisan fact-checkers, free of the influence or control of the government or its resources, to report on the accuracy of statements by public figures and prominent institutions, as well as public interest claims. The Committee requests that ongoing partnerships and relationships with Taiwan’s civil society be respected and that proposed policies that could impact these partnerships be thoroughly discussed with industry.