We are delighted to feature Sunita Bose, Managing Director of Digital Industry Group Incorporated (DIGI), as our latest Leader of Tech. Sunita speaks to us about the growth of Australia’s tech sector and the importance of modernising tech laws to support Australia’s digital economy, as well how DIGI is advocating to shape a safer online landscape for all Australians.
Can you tell us about DIGI and the work DIGI does to carry out its mission to enable a growing Australian technology sector that supports businesses and Internet users?
DIGI stands for the Digital Industry Group Inc. We're a non-profit industry association that advocates for a thriving Australian digitally-enabled economy that fosters innovation and a growing selection of digital products and services. But also a digital economy where online safety and privacy are protected, and that is a key policy focus for us.
We bring together global, Australian, large and scale-up companies behind that mission. DIGI’s founding members are Apple, eBay, Google, Linktree, Meta, TikTok, Twitter, Snap and Yahoo, and its associate members are Change.org, Gofundme, ProductReview.com.au and Redbubble. We see ourselves as a key partner in Government efforts to address harmful content online, and making Australia a leading digital economy. That work includes industry code development, partnerships, and engagement with proposed regulation, where we advocate for approaches that are effective in their goals, and can practically be implemented by industry.
You’ve led an advocacy-rich career working for organisations such as UNICEF, Oxfam and Change.org. How did this experience prepare you for your current role as Managing Director of DIGI?
My career before DIGI gave me optimism about the role technology can play in transforming people’s lives, but also a practical experience of the challenges that manifest online. I have a background in advocacy and social justice, and when I moved to San Francisco for a few years, I wanted to explore how those areas could intersect with technology and found myself working at Change.org -- an open Internet platform that allows anyone to start a petition, many of which have been hugely successful in advocating for major change. It gave me a firm belief in the democratising power that an open Internet and access to technology can bring to empower people who might not otherwise have a voice.
At the same time, my role there was to develop our work to protect users’ safety and privacy, building out policies in areas such as hate speech, bullying, misinformation and data protection. I’ve also worked to implement laws in other countries that were designed with only the largest companies in mind, and it can be absolutely all consuming for the smaller organisations. That first-hand experience as a practitioner helps me stay solutions-oriented, in both the industry codes our team develops and the proposals we make in our policy submissions.
Following the recent election, what is DIGI hoping to see from the new Albanese-led government that will have the greatest impact on the Australian tech sector”?
It has been fantastic to see the focus on growing technology jobs, particularly as DIGI’s and other research has shown the extent to which the technology industry is a high performing industry in itself, but that it also supports SMEs and regional Australia, and the productivity of almost all other industries. Gains in this sector can have a major ripple effect economy-wide. DIGI works closely with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet on its work to make Australia a leading digital economy, through our representation on the Digital Experts Advisory Committee. We believe that such consultative committees are vitally important going forward, as these can assist across the range of policies that have a role to play in growing the Australian tech sector.
A large amount of tech regulation has been passed during the last term of government. How can government and industry work together to ensure new legislation meets its goals and supports better outcomes for Australians?
Australia currently has the second smallest technology sector in the OECD, and becoming a leading digital economy will require considered work on the regulatory environment to enable this progression, in collaboration with industry. Greater coordination on digital policy occurring across the different arms of Government will be beneficial, as well as assessment frameworks to understand the unintended consequences of legislation on the digital economy and technology jobs.
Laws do need to be modernised to protect Australians from harms that manifest online, and a key solution lies in “root and branch” comprehensive reform processes that are currently underway, such as the review of the Privacy Act 1988, Stage 2 defamation law reform, and the reform of Australia’s electronic surveillance framework. Consultation and co-design such that the experiences of those who build the technology are reflected will bring the best outcomes for Australians, because that will see laws that are future-proofed as technology rapidly evolves over time.
In February 2021, DIGI launched The Australian Code of Practice for Disinformation and Misinformation (the Code) whereby members of Australia’s digital landscape, such as Meta, TikTok, Apple and Microsoft, pledged to reduce the spread of dis- and misinformation online. A year on, can you reflect for us on the lessons learned?
When the digital industry was asked to develop a code of practice on disinformation, back in December 2019, the world was a very different place. A few months later, it was the start of Australia’s first wave of COVID-19, so the pandemic stress-tested this code in a way that we may not have achieved outside of a time of crisis.
The code provides a blueprint for best practice for any digital company in relation to any issue – not just in relation to coronavirus – where harmful misinformation or disinformation may proliferate online. So far it has been adopted by eight signatories – Apple, Adobe, Google, Meta, Microsoft, Redbubble, TikTok and Twitter – that have cemented their mandatory commitments, and nominated additional opt-in commitments, through public disclosures on the DIGI website.
We want to ensure this code remains fit for purpose and we’ve recently launched a planned review of the code and are inviting submissions until 18 July 2022. Hearing the views of academics, civil society and other Australians through our previous public consultation helped DIGI shape the code, and now we want to hear from them again as to whether it needs to be amended.
Learn more about DIGI‘s work at digi.org.au.
Enjoy this Q&A? Find our full series, featuring incredible tech leaders here.