Digital News Bytes August 2021

Dhana Doobay
2 August 2021

Noteworthy digital trends impacting the Telecoms/TMT sector this month in brief:

  • Outer Space sustainability, the next frontier – The recent spike in what has become known as the “space battle of the billionaires”, and their private investment in commercial space flight activities, continues to bring the long-term use and sustainability of outer space into focus. This month has seen “edge of space” launches by Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin) and Virgin (Galactic). Elon Musk’s SpaceX is yet to announce its mission, but it is scheduled to go beyond Earth’s orbit unlike the other two. In the same month, the European Space Agency (ESA) has made a timely announcement about a new “Space Sustainability Rating (SSR)” being developed, that should go some way towards addressing the need for space operators to become more transparent in their contributions towards the protection of the space environment. The SSR will effectively score individual space operators on the sustainability of their missions, thereby encouraging and recognising responsible behaviour in space. By voluntarily joining the new SSR system, spacecraft operators, launch service providers and satellite manufacturers will be able to secure one of four levels of certification that they can advertise widely to demonstrate their mission’s commitment to sustainability. This global initiative, launched by the World Economic Forum, is the first of its kind. Whilst the UN has had on its agenda the long-term sustainability of outer space activities for the last few years, its focus has been on encouraging States and intergovernmental organisations to voluntarily take measures to implement long-term sustainability guidelines nationally, to ensure that outer space legislation is fit for purpose for the next generation of space activity. Given that the UK’s Space Agency estimates that there are approximately 170 million objects currently in orbit – most of which is space debris – which could collide with communications satellites providing vital everyday services, there is clearly a need to ensure that all stakeholders involved in space activity undertake a more transparent commitment to the sustainability of space for the future generations of outer space activity contemplated.
  • FB/Social Media curbs on under-18 behavioural ad targeting – In a continuing attempt to address concerns raised about the risks faced by young users on social media platforms, Facebook has announced that it will introduce limits on behavioural advertising to under-18s. It will stop allowing advertisers to target people under 18 on its platforms based on their interests or their activity on other sites. This change doesn’t mean advertisers cannot target under-18s on Facebook platforms, but that they will only be able to target under-18s by age, gender or location on Facebook, its Messenger service and its photo-sharing platform Instagram. In a blog post, Instagram said it was making the change because it agreed with youth advocates that young people might not be equipped to make decisions about targeting. Separately, Facebook said it was using artificial intelligence to improve age verification of young user accounts, a common social media problem, to remove underage accounts. Although Facebook could be seen as slow to react to concerns raised openly by UK MPs, academics and children’s-rights advocates in an open letter in September 2020 to the Big Tech companies about breaches of children privacy and misuse of personal data, these changes to protect young users are to be welcomed. 
  • Edtech post pandemic – The use and importance of Edtech was seen clearly during the pandemic. The explosive growth of the sector in 2020 as a result of lockdowns, and home-schooling was unprecedented. According to Forbes, record amounts of investment flowed into the digital education market, with forecasts suggesting the sector will near double in value to US$325bn by 2025. Ed-tech start-ups born during the pandemic continue to attract investment attention. This month, Class Technologies Inc raised US$105 million in a funding round that was led by SoftBank Group Corp’s Vision Fund 2. Class Technologies Inc makes tools for Zoom Video Communications Inc’s platform to enhance online classes. Its CEO predicts that over the next 12 to 18 months there will be more advancement in Edtech than we’ve seen in the last five to 10 years, which seems to bode well for investment in tech enhanced and enabled learning opportunities in a post pandemic world. On a cautionary note, however, one of the largest global Edtech markets in China is undergoing changes following recent government regulatory curbs on its $100 billion private tutoring and online education sector. Companies that offer tutoring on the school curriculum are to become not for profit organisations, with restrictions on foreign investment and IPOs, in a move aimed at saving families from expensive fees and social burdens, but which will no doubt significantly impact future investment in a sector long seen as having huge growth potential. 
Dhana Doobay
Partner – Telecoms, Media & Technology
Dhana Doobay is a Partner at Spencer West. She specialises in Telecoms, Media & Technology, Cloud and digital services, Network-sharing and infrastructure projects, International “best practice” regulatory strategy, Mobile ecosystems and Strategic partnerships