This ‘portability right’ is part of the EU’s new Personal Data Regulation (GDPR). GDPR demands a number of new requirements from governments and companies in their use of personal data (data relating to a single individual). For example, they must be able to document what data they collect and store, use, analyze and delete, and there are high fines for those who do not comply with the legislation.
It may be a few years before Europeans take full advantage of the new rights, but with the GDPR, the European Union places the individual at the center. The individual is in the driver’s seat, when it comes to their own data. The EU thus promotes a way, which is essential if we are to maintain digital trust, individual autonomy and self-determination – and ultimately our democracy.
The big challenges in data use apply to both the state, companies and individuals.
Governments’ Data Struggles
In recent years, the Danish government has stumbled in the handling of Danes’ data. It will continue in 2018. Both because Denmark is one of the most digitized communities in the world and because for at least a decade we have not had enough focus on data security and privacy. Already here at the beginning of the year, the Ministry of Education has been critisized for lack of keeping school childrens’ data safe and anonymous.
An equally important and important area is our health data. How can a smalle country make the most of all these data while maintaining security and confidence. We often hear about health data being handled with very poor data management.
The municipality of Horsens is working on a project, Tværspor, where they will be able to predict whether an individual develops a disease by means of machine learning. At an ethical council’s conference in the autumn, some ethical dilemmas were discussed, but the subject will only get a bigger focus this year, because we rarely distinguish between using data to predict patterns and using data to for individual predictions. There is a huge difference. One thing is that the police can use data to predict where on most crime will happen next Saturday and thus send more patrol cars. Another thing is to use big data analysis to predict the risk that a citizen becomes a criminal before he has committed anything criminal – or get end on social benefits.
Private enterprise data usage
While the Danish public authorities are most often criticized for not being able to handle data safely, there are allegations about direct data abuse at some big tech companies.
“I talked to my boyfriend about whether to buy a boat. I only talked with him about it and nobody else wrote anything about it or broke up. The following day I got ads for both in my feed.”
This Danish woman is one of an increasing number of Facebook users who are convinced of the many stories that hold Facebook responsible for listening in on your real life conversations, for example, if you have given Facebook Messenger access to your microphone on your smartphone. Facebook itself refuses, but 2018 will undoubtedly add on to old and new accusations against the great social media that has often suppressed the truth.
Facebook, according to the Guardian, will surely screw up this year. Due to fake news and political manipulation in their advertising system, the giant has to cooperate with states and respect the legislation, but it will never be enough – and at the same time there is massive demand for rising earnings for the listed company.
With GDPR, big tech risks huge fines from the EU, if they violate the law. And we’ll probably see better and more consistent enforcement of data protection. From May a unit in Brussels will ensure that all countries enforce the data regulation – even though big tech companies will probably find creative ways to comply with the law for their own benefit. But they are up against strong political forces in the EU, where they work closely together on data law, consumer law and competition law. And Margrethe Vestager, EU Competition Commissioner, is the face of this effort. She recently proclaimed in a Danish newspaper that IT giants should have greater respect for our privacy. As The Economist predicts, we stand before a techlash, and the biggest threat to big tech is precisely the competition law.
Indidviduals monitor each other
Confidence in each other is also a challenge. Gadgets where parents can monitor their children (see worst case scenario in Black Mirrors, season 2, section 2) is flooding the market. Be it via the phone’s ‘find my phone’ service or GPS watches for children. Lovers or spouses may monitor each other via GPS too, and individual monitoring will only gain more momentum in 2018 because when you can monitor others, there are always some who’ll do it.
The digital distrust will grow in a computer age, where the ethical and legal limits are not yet set. It is absolutely fundamental for a person to have control over his own life. But we are becoming more and more powerless; We experience massive price differences, if we don’t block cookies and manipulate our location; We are reasonably unsure about whether we can trust news via social media; and we are annoyed that even charitable non-governmental organisations share our data with everybody else via cookies. Therefore, the use of digital self-defense tools will continue to grow this year. We see an increasing use of adblockers that prevent data sharing via cookies, and the younger the more people use it. Also, using VPN that encrypts data traffic into our gadgets and allows us to manipulate our location increases and we are becoming increasingly aware of the value of our data.
New technologies, new challenges
With the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and smart cities, the challenges are only amounting.
A good example is Aristotle, an AI-based gadget that can comfort your baby so you do not have to get up at night. It was discontinued before launch due to consumer criticism; for what it does in humans and for the data harvest. The voices against unnecessary ‘spying’ (data collecting) objects will only increase. The use of virtual assistants like Google Home and Amazon’s Echo / Alexa will be widespread in 2018, but consumers will also be shocked when understanding how much data they collect and know about them to ‘help’ them to ‘smarter’ decisions.
Last year Sophia was born, an AI-based robot (android). It clearly shows that we may confuse androider with real people in just a few years. In Japan, they design AI-based robots that look like real people, but is it ethically okay? The ethical debates in the wake of new technology will be multi-armed. There will also be more and more questions asked for Facebook’s news algorithm, Google search algorithm, bank algorithms, calculating creditworthiness and similar data analysis based services. As we understand that data is the new gold of the state and companies, individuals will demand insight – and a portion of the profits.
It is Europe that has to save our privacy – that is, the right for each of us to control our own data, our digital identity. The US is at the forefront of what could be called a big data monopoly community. China stands with their social credit system at the head of what can be called a big data dictatorship. Back is a Europe, still a wealthy and attractive market, with GDPR and the individual at the center.
I know who I hope will win.