Data Governance in the Age of 5G and AI: Decentralised Model

by Vedant Mundra & Parvathi Bakshi

The fundamental challenge that data governance deals with is ensuring the benefits of the data revolution to contribute to inclusive economic development while protecting the rights of people. The latest technological developments have seen the generation, collection, storage, transfer and processing of data: with far more advanced mechanisms, leading to new social, cultural, and economic opportunities. At the same time, this collection, transfer and processing of data at such a large scale presents various challenges on privacy, freedom of expression and the exercise of other human rights. To understand data governance paradigm further, we will look at the development of internet and mobile communications from 1G to 4G and the coveted 5G. We will briefly discuss the progression of internet and mobile communications over the 4 existing generations. We will also try and understand the potential of 5G to provide a perspective on what it would resemble in the future through the example of WeChat (a Tencent developed multipurpose messaging, social media and payment app).

1G, 2G, 3G and 4G in common parlance refers to the data bandwidth and service to be provided with a mobile device. The ‘G’ in these acronyms, stands for ‘generation’ and this refers to the standards, capacities, technologies of each generation. In terms of mobile technology, the 1G was the first mobile phones to be used. It consisted of a simple call function with poor efficiency. 2G was similar but had limited data usage for message services at a very slow speed. The 3G, introduced a package where phone calls, message and internet services were far more advanced and functional. People could download movies on their smart phones and were provided with a better internet experience. The 4G built on 3G, and provided faster internet services with lower latency[1]. We are currently in the 4G and are moving towards 5G but have no proper understanding of what 5G is exactly. As per our research, 5G technology entails negligible latency as well as unlocked data services. While past generations have faced problems in terms of technology and performance, we postulate that 5G would face issues of governance rather than technology.

As a result of very high speed internet and subsequent reduction of time delay, ‘Internet of Things’ can become a reality. The ‘Internet of Things’ is the concept of a computing system where all devices are interrelated and able to transfer data back and forth without human interference. For example, autonomous self-driving vehicles need a continuous stream of data to make them safe. This data consists of global positioning system data, traffic data, driving rules etc. Therefore, a computing system which encompasses all of these information points would rely heavily on quick computing. Therefore lesser the time lag in relaying data, the safer the vehicle. The advent of ‘Internet of Things’, will lead to more complexity and larger connectivity between tonnes of terabytes of data that the internet will have to handle every second. For example, a self-driving car will have its own identity and bank account. Artificial Intelligence will drive the car. The car can refuel itself, find riders, get itself serviced, so on an so forth. Normally these individual activities would be handled through various intermediaries and servers not to mention the human element. However with AI, the level of computing is far more advanced and capable of conducting these activities through a sole computing system or server. The type of complexity that these proposed 5G servers will handle can be understood by taking an example of a super-app that is used in China i.e. WeChat.

WeChat Simulation: WeChat in day-to-day lives

This simulation has been adopted from New York Times video report “How is China Changing Your Internet?” for further understanding of the app please watch this short video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAesMQ6VtK8.

Imagine you are sitting at home in Beijing and you realise that your pet dog is dirty. You open WeChat, hit a few buttons and a few hours later, a man from the grooming company you found on WeChat shows up at your door with grooming tools. He grooms your dog, who looks clean and looks great. You click a picture, share it with friends and tag the dog cleaning business. It is important to note that you have not left the app. Meanwhile your friend who is at work, is browsing through WeChat during her break. She sees your dog’s photo and realises that she needs the same service. Within minutes, the grooming service is on their way to her house. She pays the groomers, who receive the transfer instantly through WeChat. She is chatting with you to say thanks. Neither of you have left the app. While chatting, she tells you about this new noodle joint and says that you have to come. You accept her invitation. She orders food while still at her desk and you call for a taxi. Neither you, your friend, the groomer, restaurant or taxi  have left the app. Both of you arrive at the noodle joint. Your WeChat profile photo pops up on the screen at the restaurant which signals that your food is ready. Your food is served, you notice the dish was not prepared properly, so you snap a photo and post a disparaging restaurant review. While on the phone you remember you owe money to your friend money as she paid for the food. You pay her through WeChat. Neither you or your friend has left the app and at the restaurant, there is no menu, no cashier, there is only WeChat.

Why a decentralised model of governance?

This particular simualtion, is in our mind, the future of mobile computing and  5G. It penetrates the various socio-economic systems that exists around us and advances to a far superior state of efficiency. As such, we believe that this also gives rise to a series of concerns as to which entity would have control over such a multitude of services and data transfer. Can we allow one entity or government to govern and regulate systems which surpass the physical realm and permeates through the socio-economic fabric of our communities? We argue that allowing a single entity or government would put individual autonomy and privacy at risk. Thus, in our opinion, decentralisation should be the go to model for data governance as the world transforms into an age where all aspects of life will be handled by Artificial Intelligence. 5G will enable that age by allowing transfer of data in real time. A decentralised model of data governance has many advantages over a centralised model.

The benefits of a decentralised system includes no loss of efficiency if the system is properly managed., It will also prevent creation of an ultra large entity that has total access or monopoly to all kinds of information and individual data. This creates a wall to protect privacy of netizens. The loss of functionality on one level will not halt the whole system which is a key aspect of decentralisation. A glitch in a decentralised system will not have the dire consequences that say the failure of a ‘Too Big To Fail’[2] bank would have on the entire system. And finally, since decentralised systems will consist of smaller interconnected servers, they will be easier to manage.

Through the WeChat hypothetical, we get a glimpse of how single platforms handle and process highly complex data systems. With 5G, after the advent of ‘Internet of Things’, the data systems will become even more complex and interconnected. This poses very important questions on data governance. In case of WeChat, a single entity, i.e. Tencent Holdings Limited manages all the data that relates to online life of netizens. One, vulnerability in the Tencent system, would expose all the data on its servers, which would be a major privacy breach and also hamper various aspects of lives. If data governance of 5G is as centralised as it is in WeChat, a single hack can bring the entire system down. A single leak can expose chats, images, medical and professional data. A crash in the server can halt all the autonomous vehicles, the traffic systems, the railways, aeroplanes, businesses and other aspects of daily life. Thus to balance interconnectivity and efficiency, it then becomes important to follow a decentralised model wherein different kinds of data systems are interconnected and yet have autonomous existence.


[1] Latency is the determination of speed of data transfer from user to server and vice versa. If latency is 0 that means there is not lag in data transfer.

[2] ‘Too big to fail’, definition available at https://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/too-big-to-fail.asp

References:

1. Vora, L. J. (2015). Evolution of Mobile Generation Technology. Scientific Journal Impact Factor,281-290. Retrieved April 4, 2019

2. McLauchlin, H. (2017, December 31). We(Chat) The People: Technology and Social Control in China. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from http://harvardpolitics.com/world/wechat-the-people-technology-and-social-control- in-china/


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