We interviewed Karuna Nundy, who is an international lawyer advising various governments and multilateral organisations around the world. The focus of her work is on constitutional law, commercial litigation and arbitration, media law and legal policy. Karuna serves on the Global High Level Panel on Media Freedom, lead by former Chief Justice of England Lord Neuberger and Amal Clooney.
Tell us a little about yourself. What is your core expertise?
I'm a lawyer. I litigate in India, and I’m an international lawyer advising various governments and multilateral organisations around the world. So my core expertise is law and justice, and I've been practicing for 20 odd years. I work in the areas of freedom of expression and technology, amongst other things, and I just defended one of the first legislations that bakes into its architecture blockchain technology. It's a great precedent to maintain data integrity without alienating data ownership. My involvement with polypoly is a way to take that commitment and interest forward on a global scale.
What, in your opinion is the main problem with the current data economy? It could be one or several things.
The biggest problem with the data economy is that most users of technology have absolutely no idea that they are being manipulated for profit and electoral gains for political parties, and that is sometimes directly antithetical to their interests. This is happening in many illegal ways. But what's deeply troubling to me is that this is also happening in legal ways because all of us, almost without exception, don’t read all the terms of service we sign. I literally don't know anyone who does, tech lawyers included. We commit to allow outrageous invasions of our privacy and the sale of information that we may consider intimate parts of our selves without even realising it. And so maintaining data integrity means not only making sure that it's accurate, but also making sure that data is controled by the person whose preferences and characteristics become the data, and can only be accessed with their consent and knowledge, free of economic coercion. One answer to that is a simplified terms of service that people can very quickly understand and have agency over. Agency is granted by the operating system that lives on one's own device, that then controls how much is accessed, when it's accessed, and on what terms it's accessed so the person using the device and OS and apps can remain in control. Polypoly does the latter.
What motivates you to help solve the problems you described, did anything in particular trigger your interest?
What triggers my work in justice as a lawyer triggers my work in this space. Because I think some of the greatest injustices now are implicated by technology.
What is the best way to motivate everyday people to join the movement for a fair data economy?
Making it easy to realise its goals, to realise the benefits of a fair data economy. At the moment there are huge numbers of people who aren't aware that all their data can be sold to to a third party, and that third party can be anybody. The last time I looked at Google's terms of service – and this was the browser – they could sell your browser data to any company that they wanted. Now, think of how startling that is. Think of all the things that you have searched for on your browser. The world is doing it, browsing is now googling, the brand's become an essential verb. So part of it is knowledge; part of it is making it easy to reap the benefits of not engaging with big tech. At the moment, it's incredibly difficult because there's interoperability between platforms. Wide adoption also makes it harder to use alternatives. For instance, there's a bunch of people who joined Mastodon after Twitter did something particularly egregious. I happen to have a Mastodon account, which I haven't looked at for a year. It's because everyone else is on Twitter. In another area, encryption is something that is very difficult to get wide adoption for. What's interesting – and what's happening now – is that Signal is being quite widely adopted because it is so easy, also the problems with the close alterives just got too blatant. So ease of adoption is something that is extremely important. These two things then, first, awareness of the extremity of the problem to the particular person that one is speaking to, and it's all very contextual. And the second is ease of adoption.
Here is a really tough one. How did you become aware of polypoly? And why do you think polypoly is part of the solution?
I became aware of polypoly because polypoly reached out to me through a friend and told me what they did. It became crystal clear to me that even though I had very little time to spare, that devoting some of that time to advise an organisation like polypoly was vital. Because many of us who work in the tech-law sphere, know the problems, but seldom do we see anything that looks like a silver bullet solution. What polypoly does has that potential. The extreme localisation of data means that the user becomes sovereign. And users’ sovereignty, and edge networking potentially opens up some of the best things about the ways in which the internet can be used. I hope that polypoly is able to reach the potential that we all see so clearly now.
And finally, each of our advisors has a particular skill set, given your expertise, how would you advise polypoly to move forward?
I would advise polypoly to develop a simple, fair and negotiable Terms of Service for their users; to create a viable alternative that puts pressure on big tech to change. I think one thing that polypoly should be careful of – and it's a concern that any data localisation effort must focus on – is we have to have some standards that guide us based on human rights standards like the UDHR and the ICCPR, and instruments that flow from those, that have the most wide adoption. I think one must be careful to also make sure that people have access to as much data as they possibly can, when big tech folds on these practises.