In-depth interview with Judith Bellaiche, President of SWICO on current political and digital issues

PLATFORMS

Several items from the spring session directly concern digital technology, starting with Lex booking, which intends to prohibit certain price clauses imposed on hoteliers by online platforms. What is your opinion on the matter?

I deplore this current trend of wanting to take advantage of the services of digital platforms without agreeing to pay the price. The Lex Booking is a good illustration of this. Hoteliers have always worked through intermediaries and people were hardly moved by the commissions they paid to travel agencies. I don’t see why it would be any different for reservation platforms, which provide an extended service and offer international visibility to establishments. I find it justified for the state to intervene when higher interests are at stake, such as the protection of citizens in the areas of cybersecurity or hate speech. This is not the case here: it is a question of private law and the State does not have to meddle in these contracts.

Some platforms now occupy quasi-monopoly positions, making them essential and reaping revenues for modest added value. That should be of concern to the liberal that you are…

If they are essential, it is good that they bring value! Booking.com does a lot of the marketing and booking process and deserves to be rewarded accordingly. It is now easy to search for hotels by city, by district, by number of stars, by preference… it is not up to parliament to decide how much it is worth. And then there is competition, like Trivago or referencing on Google Maps, which is also free. The Law against unfair competition is valid for the whole economy, it must not specifically attack platforms, for the sole reason that they have developed successful business models and free services from which we benefit all.

People would like to have everything without giving anything – I oppose this logic.

I hear your criticism of laws targeting digital platforms. We mentioned Booking.com, and we could also mention the Lex Netflix or the request in certain countries that Google rewards the press. That being said, shouldn’t legislation be adapted to take into account the economics of platforms, their disruptive models and their role as gatekeepers?

The Competition Commission already deals with questions of monopoly or unfair competition. And the platforms compete with each other. Once again, what bothers me is this paradoxical reflex, which consists in taking advantage of their free services, while refusing that they finance themselves in any other way. You mention the case of the media. No one complained that a good part of their income came from advertising. But if Google does the same, people are shocked. The same is true with data. We are talking today about rewarding users for the personal data that is collected by the platforms. I don’t mind, but then the service can no longer be free! People would like to have everything without giving anything – I oppose this logic.

MODERATION

You mentioned the issue of online moderation. The Sotomo study commissioned by Swico shows that people are worried about hate speech on social media and want the state to do more. The subject is also on the table of the government in Switzerland and in Europe with the future Digital Service Act. What is your opinion on the subject?

Today, it is up to the courts to decide whether content is legal or not. Tomorrow, with the European Digital Service Act, platforms will be responsible for censoring illegal content themselves. I understand the problem of hate speech, but the state does not have to transfer to digital providers the tasks that fall to them. It is dangerous for public debate to delegate such censorship to private actors.

Platforms are already moderating and censoring today. Isn’t it better that they do it on the basis of established rules rather than on their own?

Facebook, Twitter and others are private communication platforms. They can refuse someone in the same way that I can get someone who insults me out of my house. It is a private process.

People will be cautious and refrain from posting content for fear of being censored.

It cannot be denied that these platforms today play an important role in the public space and the formation of opinion in the same way as the press…

Of course, they play a huge role. The press has set up ethical principles and complaint bodies. You publish an erratum in case of erroneous information, you grant rights of reply, etc. But it is disproportionate to the Digital Services Act which will force platforms to censor content they deem illegal without going through the courts. People will be cautious and refrain from posting content for fear of being censored. From a democratic point of view this is a problem.

Would you prefer that the State be in charge of censoring hateful content on social networks?

No, and it would not be practical given the scale of the phenomenon and the bots involved in it. What I’m asking is that the state do what it’s supposed to do and prosecute people who do illegal things. If someone attacks me physically, I go to the police and they investigate, whereas online nothing happens. The state cannot get rid of the problem and give the hot potato to online platforms.

CYBER

Let’s talk about protection. The people surveyed in your study and parliamentarians are calling for the state to help companies in the field of cybersecurity. Is this also your opinion?

I admit that I was surprised by this request to see the State get involved in corporate cybersecurity. It would be a complete system change. Until now, the State took care of public security, but it was the companies that were responsible for protecting their infrastructures and buildings, for example. As a liberal, I am quite skeptical about this new role for the state. Large companies have the means to protect themselves against cyberattacks. As for SMEs, I think that collective solutions could be proposed by associations, such as USAM.

We would need hundreds of specialists to secure a sovereign cloud.

SOVEREIGN CLOUD

Another topic of the moment, the sovereign cloud is also being debated. Are you advocating for the deployment of such an infrastructure?

The question is complex and it is also debated in parliament. This is also a technical discussion. If we want a sovereign cloud, it is in particular a question of data protection. However, at the technical level, I am convinced that a Swiss cloud, and what is more a federal cloud, will not offer a level of security equivalent to that offered by hyperscalers. Their scale allows them to invest phenomenal amounts in cybersecurity. We would need hundreds of specialists to secure a sovereign cloud. Where foreign clouds pose a concern is with extraterritorial laws, such as the Cloud Act. From a Swiss perspective, it would be illegal for a provider to hand over the data to the US government, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen. This is not the only area where we are confronted with intrusive foreign legislation. I am thinking in particular of the European Union, which wants to require providers of chat applications to let the authorities scan messages to fight against pedophiles. What would this mean for the Swiss solution Threema? Should she give up encryption?

WORK & SHORTAGE

As director of SWICO, one of your battle horses concerns the flexibility of work granted to IT companies, and in particular the possibility which would be offered to them of annualizing working hours. What is the problem today?

Work flexibility is a reality in the IT sector and specialists adapt their schedules to the needs of clients and their own preferences. The problem is that when it comes to reporting the hours worked, employees are somehow forced to enter fictitious hours so that their employers comply with the legislation. This absurd situation where people are forced to cheat cannot last. This is not my idea of ​​a liberal and respectful working world. This is all the more a problem as the number one concern of the branch is to find qualified personnel. IT companies already paying very high salaries, it is imperative that they can offer flexible working methods to gain even more attractiveness. Not to mention that the federal administration has such flexibility to meet its ever-increasing needs for IT personnel.

What the IT sector needs is legislation that reflects the working methods practiced today.

The IT sector does not want a collective agreement…

A collective agreement makes no sense for a branch that already offers very generous working conditions to its employees, particularly in terms of leave and equipment. What the IT sector needs is legislation that reflects the working methods practiced today and that satisfies both employees and companies.

Regarding the shortage of qualified personnel. Should we be concerned about the attractiveness of MINTs, as digital is becoming more and more of a concern, as your survey shows?

There will always be people willing to develop positive things in and with digital. We are only in the infancy when it comes to the potential of digital, if I think of health or ecology, which is naturally close to my heart as a green liberal. Think of all that these technologies do for us today, what we have gained in terms of expression and information. So I don’t think the image of digital is tarnished. I would rather say that it is a young field and that we are in full puberty. We are discovering limits and drifts that we naturally have to address – it is not for nothing that I wanted Swico to carry out a survey among the population. As such, I occupy a privileged position between politics and industry and I am actively involved in these areas. In particular, I developed an ethical circle within the association where we are committed to algorithmic transparency, and I worked for Swico to join the Swisscleantech association with the project of indicating the carbon footprint of the digital services more used. There is a lot to do and I am convinced that associations can play a key role in these areas, which concern people.

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In-depth interview with Judith Bellaiche, President of SWICO on current political and digital issues