Are Digital Platforms Solutions to Public Problems? Perspectives from Southeast Asia
Thu 16:00-17:30 Room 3.07
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The platformisation of pandemic governance and the infrastructuralisation of public health surveillance in Vietnam
Dang Nguyen RMIT University
This paper traces the rapid infrastructuralisation of surveillance in and through the platformisation of pandemic governance in Vietnam by conducting situational analysis of publicly available policy documents and official government communication. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Vietnam transitioned from a discourse of digitalisation built around knowledge codification and economic development into one of emergency platformisation of surveillance. This happened in a context where platform is increasingly discussed alongside, and understood on the same terms as, infrastructure. Pivoting from the ‘one problem, one app’ approach early on in the pandemic, Vietnam developed a one-stop ‘super-app’ solution that streamlines data flows across different domains of authority and enables ongoing surveillance rule customisation. By tracing how the programmability of pandemic governance platforms evolved, I assemble the processes through which platform boundaries expand and contract in response to technical and organisational interactions with a range of diverse actors: government ministries, telecoms, app developers, and user-citizens. In so doing, I put together an account of not only the changes that occur during the life course of platform architecture and the processes through which platform functionality becomes embedded in other domains of everyday practices, but also the evolution of institutional dependency across different domains of authority and technology development in facilitating pandemic citizenship.
The Stasis Effect: How Reliance on Algorithmic Platforms Could Impede Better Public Services
Godofredo Ramizo Independent Researcher
This study demonstrates that user reliance on algorithmic digital platforms could potentially diminish public demand on governments to improve public systems that overlap with the digital platform’s services. Sixty-four (64) in-depth interviews with ride-hailing platform users in Manila and Jakarta indicate that when certain platform features and contextual factors exist, user reliance on platform solutions can shift public support away from public services, triggering what is termed here as the “stasis effect.” In this paper, the “stasis effect” describes how platform reliance can cause platform users to accord more importance to platform solutions and less to similar public services. The diminished social clamour for these public services weakens—or puts in stasis—the linkages between public opinion and government action. Thus, it becomes less likely for public opinion to compel governments to improve public services that overlap with digital platform services. The stasis effect promises to be a useful lens for studying inadvertent policy impacts of digital platforms, artificial intelligence and algorithmic systems on the prospects of improving public services.
The Transformation of Digital Retailing in Thailand
Akkanut Wantanasombut Chulalongkorn University
As COVID-19 continues to wreck economies and require physical distancing, growth in digital retailing has accelerated all over the world. In Thailand, not only have traditional large retailers digitally transformed themselves, many new MSME merchants and shoppers are also actively engaged with digital platforms.
From the data collected from 102 digital retailers and 112 consumers during the pandemic, the paper discusses the digital retailing transformation in Thailand. The paper examines impacts on the business landscape, regulation, society, and privacy. Empirical results showed that foreign giant marketplace platforms have been dominating digital retailing. Local entrepreneurs who participate on marketplace platforms could not compete with their overseas competitors due to some government regulations. The government has initiated a new set of regulations regarding antitrust, revenue code, and personal data protection, among others, to cope with digital transformation. However, regulations that are not well-adapted create barriers to entrepreneurs.
Employment in the digital retailing ecosystem tends be characterized by non-standard forms of employment, thus raising concerns around labour and social protection. Moreover, personal data protection remains an issue as enactment of related laws were postponed twice in two years, thus reinforcing the advantage giant platforms have over small local retailers.
These suggest that MSME participation in digital platforms may not solve the problem of market access, labour justice and social protection for small players.
Understanding the Case of Ojeks in Indonesia
Ivy Jessen Galvan University of the Philippines
Ojek, or “motorcycle taxi,” is an indispensable mode of transportation in Indonesia. In the context of insufficiently-planned urban infrastructures and lack of reliable formal transportation, ojek meets public transport needs. The ojek’s ability to weave through the traffic, navigate narrow spaces and defy directional road rules gives ojek an advantage over other vehicles. Ride-hailing apps eventually came in leveraging on these transport advantages of ojek, infuses predictability through technology, hence offering a more convenient solution to everyday commute problems. However, ride-hailing apps face opposition from conventional ojek drivers. I highlight three basic dimensions to this resistance: legality, livelihood and legacy. At the same time, ride-hailing apps pose new challenges to urban planning. The paper explores the following questions: How do ride-hailing apps affect conventional ojeks? Where do we place ride-hailing apps in the ‘modernization’ discourse? The discussion shows that the transformation from traditional to digital and modern is not a black-and-white situation. Neither is it reasonable to resist change. This paper offers insights that may not only be relevant in the socio-economic setting of Indonesia but may be revealing of the ways in which the ride-hailing industry is shaping everyday realities in Southeast Asia. Likewise, this presentation aims to elicit contributions from the participants on the different manners in which this phenomenon is unfolding in other parts of the region.
Reflecting global trends, Southeast Asian societies are increasingly relying on private digital technologies to solve social problems, which are traditionally handled by governments accountable to the public. Through algorithms that facilitate human transactions, digital platforms indeed offer benefits. Societies have used digital platforms to lessen unemployment, democratise finance, improve transport, and connect small vendors to vast markets. Many even speak of a post-pandemic society ever more reliant on the digital platforms. But given this increasing reliance, we need make nuanced assessments of the positive, negative, and complex implications of using private digital platforms to solve public problems. The panel tackles this urgent topic by defining providing perspectives from various angles:
• Sectoral: Digital platforms operate in sectors such as online labour, fintech, ecommerce, and ride-hailing, etc. How have these helped and/or hindered people?
• Political: What is the government’s response to the increasing scope of digital platform firms in solving public problems?
• Critical: Beyond the advantages of digital platforms, what possible problems arise when we use private digital platforms to solve public problems?
The panel welcomes contributions that leverage social science analysis and empirical studies that make nuanced assessments of the benefits and risks of relying on private digital platforms to solve public problem. These efforts help us ideate solutions and safeguards to ensure that digital platforms become a force of social good.