The Internet is now an essential part of our lives and a critical element of the world economy. Internet penetration increased almost sevenfold in the past 15 years, from 6.5% of the world population in 2000 to 43% in 2015.

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On 21-23 June Mexico hosts the OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy. The first ministerial of its kind on this subject (then called “electronic commerce”) was held in Canada in 1998, and the second one in Korea in 2008; hence Mexico is the third county to have this distinction and the first Latin American country to organise and lead this undertaking. As the use of information and communications technology (ICT) is favourable for productivity across a large number of strategic industries in any economy, we have chosen "Innovation, Growth and Social Prosperity” as this year’s theme, three goals that can hardly be achieved without the impetus of digital technology.

When the OECD adopted its first E-commerce Recommendation in 1999, online spending on so-called e-commerce was well-below 1% of total retail spending. Fifteen years later, the figures have jumped to almost 8% in the EU and more than 11% in the United States. This is no longer some future trend: e-commerce is here and is critical for the economy, in which household consumption accounts for about 60% of total GDP in the OECD area.

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The digital economy is here, and growing every day, sometimes in surprising ways. As ministers gather for major meetings in Paris and Cancun, government leaders should be in no doubt about the key role they must play in securing the digital economy’s future as a driver of productive and inclusive progress.

Pepper the humanoid robot, at OECD Forum 2016 ©Rory Clarke/OECD Observer

To many workers, the words “digital technologies” may evoke one simple, dismaying image: a human-like robot sitting at their desk, doing the work that they used to do! This anxiety is not different from the fear of coachmen witnessing the diffusion of cars in the 1920s. In a sense, coachmen were right: cars did replace horse coaches. However, their children and grand-children found new and often better paid jobs in the wealth of new activities made necessary or possible by cars: automobile manufacturing, car repair, travelling sales, home delivery, mass tourism, road building, the petrol business, and so on.

Connectivity is the foundation for the digital economy. The Internet has already connected more than three billion users across the globe and about 14 billion devices. 

Now more than ever, the digital economy is the economy. Digital technologies, or Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), are boosting trade, innovation, entrepreneurship, and with them growth and social wellbeing. Those benefits depend on openness. Openness has technical, economic and social dimensions, from open standards for core technologies and protocols, and competitively priced access for users, to the respect for human rights, freedom of expression and privacy. In essence, openness enables people to access, and do more things with, digital technologies: start a business online, create new products and business processes or revolutionise existing ones, express opinions, raise capital, share knowledge and ideas, conduct research, interact with government, improve skills, and much more. 

Three out of four people access the Internet everyday across the OECD. But one-third of those daily users don't yet buy online. Why not? According to a 2014 consumer survey the top two concerns reported by EU Internet shoppers are the misuse of personal data and security of online payments. 

What policy actions are you taking to harness the benefits and address the challenges of the digital economy?

A clash between robots and workers is unlikely. Rather, disruptive technology can make workers more efficient without replacing them, and raise profits, while maintaining or increasing a company’s workforce.

The rapid rise of a new generation of connected, intelligent devices—collectively known as the Internet of Things, or IoT—is more than just the latest digital enabler to impact organisations of all sizes. The IoT presents vast opportunities for governments and businesses to improve internal efficiencies, serve their customers or constituents better, and enter new markets or provide new services. Such services will transform the way we work and live every day. As the IoT develops, it is essential that security-by-design be a core feature of the connected device ecosystem.

Few issues are of greater concern to Internet users today than privacy protection. Everyone wants the benefits of Internet access, but few want to sacrifice their privacy or face the risk of cyber theft as a consequence. 

I’m sure you’ve all heard about “the open Internet.” The expression builds upon a rich pedigree of the term “open” in various contexts. It gives the impression that “open” is some positive attribute, and when we use the expression of the “open Internet” it seems that we're lauding it in some way. But are we, and if so, in what way?

Publishing, telecommunications, the audiovisual industry and broadcasting taken together are an important source of value-added growth in OECD countries despite accounting for less than 4% of total OECD employment. This “information sector” covers a wide range of activities, from computer and optical manufacturing to communications services. 

The world has seen more than one industrial revolution and another one is already upon us. We should face it as optimists.

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Digital science and technology are at the heart of major economic, social and–in the eyes of some–anthropological shifts. That is why we need to think about the ethics of how these tools are produced and how they are used.

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"We are the children of a technological age. We have found streamlined ways of doing much of our routine work. Printing is no longer the only way of reproducing books. Reading them, however, has not changed.” Lawrence Clark Powell

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One country with an exemplary record in broadband is Korea, host of the 2008 OECD ministerial meeting on the Future of the Internet Economy. On broadband reach it is the seventh in the OECD in December 2007, for fibre-optics it lies second only to Japan and is well ahead of the rest of the field, and for download speeds, it is in a comfortable third, after France and Japan. Korea is also a leader in mobile technology.

Henry Copeland ©Blogads

The Internet has come a long way since it entered the public domain some 15 years ago. One man who has made it his business to follow Internet’s development is Henry Copeland, founder and director of Blogads, one of the world’s largest blog-specific advertising companies, and Pressflex, a web-hosting company dedicated to the needs of small journals and magazines such as this one, and larger commercial titles, such as FT Business. As Mr Copeland points out, all his business grew organically, without the help of business angels, but with offices now in North America and Europe, and clients or users in every continent. We interviewed him in his home base in the US, by email of course.

©Technology Agency of the Czech Republic

 

"The number of people employed in R&D has grown by 50% in seven years."

José Mariano Gago and OECD Secretary-General Donald J. Johnston, at the 1999 OECD/CSTP Ministerial Meeting , chaired by José Mariano Gago.

With José Mariano Gago, the world has lost a brilliant scientist and an outstanding policymaker. He did not just decisively shape the policy landscape in Portugal; his intellectual rigour, charisma and generosity profoundly influenced the search for better policies in many countries. That is why we were so saddened when we learned that Mariano Gago had passed away on 17 April 2015.

Not much good has come from the Ebola crisis, save this: It has raised awareness of the fact that we already have a weapon in our hands that could help fight such epidemics – our mobile phones.

Click to enlarge. By StiK, especially for the OECD Observer

Click to enlarge

Case studies of specific products, particularly in the electronics industry, show that value creation along a global value chain tends to be unevenly distributed among activities. 

In a recent article in the OECD Observer, Vézina and Melin describe how online platforms lower trade barriers and enable micro to small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) to build multinational operations. The contrast with traditional trade is stark, where exporting is normally confined to the largest corporations. Technology is reshaping the international trading landscape, and the changes are real and quantifiable. This is sharpening the role international trade can play in promoting sustainable development.

Carlos Ghosn, Nissan boss ©Reuters

Non-nationals are starting to make an impact in top Japanese firms. But will other firms take notice? Changes in education would help.

©Ralph Freso/Reuters

One of the earliest citations of the phrase “print is dead” comes from the 1984 movie Ghostbusters, but almost 30 years later, print is certainly not dead. Print publishing still drives on average 80% of revenues and close to 100% of the profits for general trade publishers. But among reference and science, technical and medical (STM) publishers, digital publishing was embraced quickly and openly at the expense of print. 

©Dave Amit/Reuters

Bus tickets save lives. Here’s why. 

As China’s economic importance on the world’s stage is growing, so is its space programme. Ten years after becoming the third country in the world to launch human beings into orbit, China successively undertook its fifth manned space mission in June, its longest yet. Three “taikonauts” (Chinese astronauts) spent two weeks in orbit in the Tiangong 1 space module.

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