Welcome to the sixth issue of Emerging Tech Law — a slightly irreverent view of regulatory developments (and other interesting stuff) relating to emerging technologies including AI, IoT, robotics, blockchain/crypto, 5G, artificial/virtual/extended reality (and the metaverse), biotech and quantum computing.
In this issue:
Web 3.0: Check your email & surf the web while immersed in layers of data.
China’s Tech Crackdown: This time privacy prevails.
Drones: Your flying taxi is arriving soon. Are you ready?
Quote of the week:
“A unitary urbanism — the synthesis of art and technology that we call for — must be constructed according to certain new values of life, values which now need to be distinguished and disseminated.”
-Gil Wolman, French poet, painter and filmmaker
A brief introduction to the next iteration of the web
If you are of a certain age, you remember the sweet sounds of your 28.8 kbps modem connecting with the Internet over your phone line so you could check into your chat rooms and connect with friends on your AIM buddy list. That was Web 1.0.
We’re all living with Web 2.0 in which social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter loom large, along with user-generated photos and videos, enabled by developments in mobile phone technology and 4G/LTE wireless connections.
Next up is Web 3.0. But what is Web 3.0?
It’s in its nascent stages, but the vision for a fully realized Web 3.0 remains a little fuzzy and depends upon whom you ask. A little like the saying that if all you have is a hammer, everything’s a nail, the current visions of Web 3.0 tend to match the preferences of the visionaries.
If you’re into crypto: Web 3.0 will be a Defi (distributed finance) haven where you’ll be free to make your fortune trading digital currency, building distributed applications (dapps) through distributed autonomous organizations (DAOs) rather than corporations, all free from centralized oversight and the bonds of fiat currency.
If you’re into extended reality: Web 3.0 will be the platform to immerse yourself into a virtual three-dimensional experience (a/k/a the metaverse).
If you’re into privacy and consumer rights: Web 3.0 will be a place where you control your personal data (and will be compensated for its use by others) and where big corporations like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple hold so much sway.
If you’re Tim Berners-Lee: sorry, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the knight with shining keyboards who invented the world wide web, Web 3.0 will be the “semantic web,” a place where machines understand contextual data (and perhaps the machines will actually understand what TB-L means by the semantic web -- JK).
Or perhaps Web 3.0 will be a little bit of all of these, mixed together. In fact, some are calling 3.0 the “spatial web” where layers of data (a nod to Berners-Lee) and immersive content sit on top of a physical layer (the real world).
“...the world around us is about to light up with layer upon layer of rich, fun, meaningful, engaging, and dynamic data. Data you can see and interact with. This magical future ahead is called the Spatial Web and will transform every aspect of our lives, from retail and advertising, to work and education, to entertainment and social interaction.”
The technologies that are pushing us forward toward Web 3.0 include:
Blockchain: Distributed ledger technology, which currently powers crypto currencies and applications such as tracking of items moving through supply chains, may allow for greater distribution of power so that data remains under the control of individuals. Blockchain may also power some of the backend of the web, further pushing away power from a few companies that control critical parts of the infrastructure including the cloud computing structures of Amazon, Google and Microsoft.
AR/VR Hardware: Notwithstanding the failure of Google Glass (a product that was perhaps ahead of its time), the hardware that is used to view augmented and virtual realities is beginning to move away from clunky headsets to more user-friendly devices that resemble glasses that seem more likely to be widely adopted.
5G + Edge Computing: Telecoms throughout the world are rapidly rolling out 5G wireless service, which will allow quick transfers of large amounts of data, rapid response times and the capacity to connect large numbers of sensors and devices. All of these capabilities are enhanced when data and computing power are placed at the edge of the network where they can be utilized on demand. Imagine, for example, digital maps being stored at the edge of the wireless network (such as servers within the local wireless network) where they can be accessed rapidly by mobile phones or navigation systems in self-driving vehicles and updated to account for changing environments such as traffic hazards or even moving vehicles.
IoT: 5G will allow the connection to the Internet of billions of devices ranging from drones to kitchen tools to personal fitness trackers, all of which will collect and output data and will form an Internet of Things (IoT).
AI: As artificial intelligence develops further, it will enable the processing and contextualization of the vast amount of data that will be produced by IoT devices. For example, producing real-time maps from data uploaded by self-driving vehicles and traffic cameras and more importantly providing guidance to avoid hazards and congestion.
Legal and Policy Implications: What are the legal and policy implications of Web 3.0? This could take up a book, but here are a few. One key question is the extent to which Web 3.0 will be driven by decentralized systems, for example by running on true public blockchain platforms that distribute power over networks rather than concentrate power.
1. Privacy: If the vision of a web in which individual users control their data and are able to share in limited amounts (for example for authentication) , some of the privacy concerns that have been the bane of Web 2.0 could be significantly lessened. If that vision does not hold true, and instead data from sensors, IoT devices and immersive experiences is combined with data from the real world and shared and accumulated by Big Tech and others, then the privacy issues we currently face will be compounded as even more data is collected from sensors and devices.
2. Cybersecurity: As with privacy issues, if the vision of Web 3.0 is fulfilled in which individual data is controlled and stored by individuals rather than massively aggregated into data troves that attract cybercriminals and rogue nations, some of the current cybersecurity woes that plague Web 2.0 may be allayed. If that vision doesn’t hold and even greater amounts of data are stored centrally, cybersecurity concerns will worsen. But even if data control is held by individuals, cybersecurity threats won’t go away.
Now, massive amounts of our data are under the care of companies like Amazon and Google – companies that can afford to employ the most talented cybersecurity pros and technology. Imagine that instead you are your own cybersecurity team. One only has to read a few posts on Reddit about people giving away their private keys and having their cryto stolen to see the potential folly of individualized control over data. In other words, there likely will always be business for cybersecurity companies; the question is whether the primary market will move from the enterprise to the individual.
3. Competition: Who will control Web 3.0? Will it be the same Big Tech companies that dominate Web 2.0 (or their successors), or will it truly be individuals? Although regulators, particularly in the European Union, are scratching away at the control over Web 2.0 held by Big Tech, competition laws, particularly the antitrust laws in the U.S., are not well suited to apply to digital platform businesses that have mostly gained power via network effects rather than acquisitions or anticompetitive contracts.
4. Standards: Development of the web has been made possible through standard protocols such as TCP/IP and HTML. Standards will need to be set to make Web 3.0 work, particularly interactions between the physical, spatial and data layers, and these standards may require coordination among IP owners.
5. International oversight: Although it is not an issue that is unique to Web 3.0, the greater exchanges of data and commerce that could be enabled will raise questions about which jurisdictions’ laws apply and how they will be enforced across borders.
China continues to tighten restrictions on tech, implements new privacy law: Amidst a crackdown on the business practices of tech companies, China has implemented its first comprehensive privacy law.
The Personal Information Protection Law (with the convenient acronym “PIPL”. Does that work in Mandarin too??) may significantly impact the way companies do business with Chinese citizens.
“This new legislation could mean really substantial improvement for data protection in China’s private sector, and some of the world’s most direct regulations on algorithm use in markets. Or, it could be under-enforced and stall awaiting detailed regulations,” Graham Webster, the editor-in-chief of the DigiChina Project at Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center, told The Guardian.
Some key points:
Like GDPR: PIPL closely tracks some aspects of Europe’s primary privacy law, the GDPR including a requirement that companies designate a point of contact within China if they are processing data of Chinese citizens outside of China.
Extraterritorial: The law applies not only to companies operating within China but also to companies outside of China that process data related to products and services provided in China, or that “analyze or assess behavior of individuals in China.”
Stiff Penalties: Fines for companies that fail to comply could be as high as 50 million RMB (approximately $7,719,027.00) or 5% of annual revenue, according to law firm Gibson Dunn.
Private Industry Only: It’s also important to note that the law affects private industry, not the Chinese government, which has become well-known for its surveillance efforts.
“The Chinese government is the greater threat to individual privacy and I don't know that they will be affected by this,” Omer Tene, a partner at U.S. law firm Goodwin told Wired.
You want ‘em, you got ‘em: Controversial tech investor Peter Thiel once said, “We wanted flying cars. Instead, we got 140 characters.” Now, not only do you get 280 characters on Twitter, you also may soon have flying cars.
California-based Joby Aviation has already conducted more than 1,000 test flights of its flying vehicle that runs on electronic power and is capable of vertical take-off and landings (the vehicles are also known as eVTOL aircraft). If it can get FAA approval, Joby hopes to be offering commercial flights in 2024.
"We envisage offering our aerial ride-sharing service from locations near to where people live, work and want to go," Oliver Walker-Jones, a spokesperson for Joby, told the BBC.
The company is working with cities and the owner of parking garages to design facilities to serve as hubs for its vehicles and to ensure that they are coordinated with other transportation networks.
With the technology – also called Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) – looking increasingly feasible, cities are already considering the policy and regulatory choices that will need to be made to adapt. Los Angeles has already developed a framework for AAM, and other cities are following the lead.
“With proactive urban planning and policy, planners have the potential to guide the sustainable and equitable adoption of these innovations," Adam Cohen, research associate at the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the UC Berkeley told Planning Magazine.
For a deeper dive: Flying Taxis Are Coming and Communities Need to be Prepared, Principles of the Urban Sky.
As previewed in Newsletter #2, President Biden announced that he would nominate Robert Califf to serve a second term as Commissioner of the FDA. Califf served in the position during the Obama administration and is viewed as friendly with the tech industry, having spent time at served as a senior adviser to Google sister company, Verily.
A San Francisco-based startup, Synthesis AI, has released an API for creating virtual humans from synthetic data (data that is generated by AI based on real world data that may help eliminate biases in real world data sets). “Virtual humans are photorealistic digital representations of people who will move, talk, and behave like real humans in a virtual environment,” according to an article in VentureBeat.
Apple and Google have announced new mobile app privacy measures. Apple will require developers to allow users to delete their accounts from within their apps. Google will require developers to provide information about how their applications collect and share data and this information will be made available to potential users.
“You can’t move mountains by whispering at them.”
Obligatory disclaimer: Any opinions are those of the cited source or the author of this newsletter, not the author’s employer. If for some reason you think any legal advice is given in this newsletter, you’re sadly mistaken.