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

PLATFORMS

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

I deplore this current trend of wanting to use the services of digital platforms without agreeing to pay the price. Lex Booking is a good example 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 booking platforms, which provide extensive service and offer international visibility to properties. I find it justified for the state to intervene when higher interests are at stake, such as protecting citizens in the areas of cyber security or hate speech. That is not the case here: it is a matter of private law and the state must not meddle in these contracts.

Some platforms now occupy near-monopoly positions, making them essential and collecting revenues for modest added value. This should worry the liberal you are …

If they are essential, it is good that they bring value! Booking.com carries out a large part of the marketing and booking process and deserves to be rewarded accordingly. Now it is 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 the competition, such as Trivago or referencing on Google Maps, which is also free. La Loi contre la concurrence déloyale est valable pour toute l’économie, elle ne doit pas s’attaquer de manière spécifique aux plateformes, pour la seule raison qu’elles ont développé des modèles d’affaires à succès et des services gratuits dont nous profitons all.

People would like to have it all without giving anything – I object to this logic.

I’ve heard your critique of laws targeting digital platforms. We mentioned Booking.com, and we might as well mention Lex Netflix or the claim in some countries that Google awards the press. That said, shouldn’t legislation be adapted to take into account the platform economy, their disruptive models and their role as gatekeepers?

The Competition Commission is already dealing with issues 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, refusing to finance themselves in any other way. You mentioned the case of the media. Nobody complained that a large part of their income came from advertising. But if Google does the same, people are shocked. The same goes for data. Let’s talk today about rewarding users for the personal data collected by the platforms. I don’t mind, but then the service can no longer be free! People would like to have it all without giving anything – I object to this logic.

MODERATION

You mentioned the problem of online moderation. The Sotomo study commissioned by Swico shows that people are concerned about hate speech on social media and want the state to do more. The topic is also on the government table in Switzerland and Europe with the future law on digital services. What is your opinion on the subject?

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

The 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 reject someone in the same way that I can get someone who insults me out of the 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 in forming opinion in the same way as the press …

Of course, they play a huge role. The press has established ethical principles and organs of denunciation. You post an erratum in case of incorrect information, grant reply rights, 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 the state to censor hateful content on social networks?

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

CYBER

Let’s talk about protection. People interviewed in your study and parliamentarians are asking the state to help companies in the field of cybersecurity. Is this also your opinion?

I admit I was surprised by this request to see the state involved in corporate cybersecurity. It would be a complete system change. Until now, the state was concerned with public safety, but it was companies that took care of the protection of their infrastructures and buildings, for example. As a liberal, I am quite skeptical of this new role for the state. Large companies have the means to protect themselves from cyber attacks. As for SMEs, I think 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, was also discussed. Do you support the implementation of such an infrastructure?

The issue is complex and 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, on a technical level, I am convinced that a Swiss, and moreover federal, cloud will not offer a level of security equivalent to that offered by hyperscalers. Their reach allows them to invest phenomenal sums in cybersecurity. We would need hundreds of specialists to secure a sovereign cloud. Where foreign clouds pose a problem is with extraterritorial laws, such as the Cloud Act. From a Swiss perspective, it would be illegal for a provider to hand over data to the US government, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen. This is not the only area in which we are faced with intrusive foreign legislation. I am thinking in particular of the European Union, which wants to force chat application providers to allow authorities to scan messages to fight pedophiles. What would that mean for the Swiss Threema solution? Should he give up on encryption?

WORK AND DEFICIENCY

As a director of SWICO, one of your strong points is the flexibility of work afforded to IT companies, and in particular the possibility that they would be offered to annualize their working hours. What’s the problem today?

Work flexibility is a reality in the IT industry and specialists adapt their schedules to customer needs and preferences. The problem is that when it comes to reporting 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 world of work. This is all the more of a problem as the branch’s number one concern is finding qualified personnel. IT companies that already pay very high salaries, it is vital that they can offer flexible working methods to achieve even more appeal. Not to mention, the federal administration has such flexibility to meet its ever-growing needs for IT staff.

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

The IT industry doesn’t want a collective agreement …

A collective agreement does not make sense for a branch that already offers very generous working conditions to its employees, especially in terms of holidays and equipment. What the IT industry 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 worry 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 just starting out when it comes to the potential of digital, whether I think about health or ecology, which of course I care about as a green liberal. Think about everything these technologies do for us today, what we have gained in terms of expression and information. So I don’t think the digital image is blurred. I would rather say that it is a young camp and that we are in full puberty. We are discovering limits and drifts that of course we have to face: it is not for nothing that I wanted Swico to do a population survey. As such, I occupy a privileged position between politics and industry and I am actively involved in these areas. In particular, I have developed an ethical circle within the association where we are committed to algorithmic transparency, and I have worked for Swico to become part of the Swisscleantech association with the project to indicate the carbon footprint of the most digital services. 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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