Skip links

How To Fix The Future According to Andrew Keen

Book. Regulation, competitive innovation, social responsibility, worker and consumer choice and education are the five magic bullets on how to solve the current digital trust crisis, according to an excellent book from Andrew Keen; ‘How To Fix the Future’.

As opposed to his former books, where Andrew Keen ditches big tech and Silicon Valley’s surveillance capitalism, Andrew Keen has decided to be constructive and look at the positive sides of digitisation in his new book How To Fix The Future. To find, what he believes is the right democratic and human-centered digital solutions, Keen has traveled far; from Estonia over Singapore to Berlin, Brussels and the US.

In short Estonia, the Germans and Margrethe Vestager have the answers to establishing a fairer and more equal digital infrastructure. And the five magic bullets are: regulation, competitive innovation, social responsibility, worker and consumer choice and education.

Estonia’s rival to Facebook

The Estonian government is praised as one of few – if any other – visionary governments doing the right thing, when it come to digitisation, according to Keen. Its ID system is designing to be “the reverse of Orwell’s Big Brother.”

“In Estonia, citizens are being empowered to watch the operations of government. And although the government can look at people’s data, it must notify them when it does so,” he writes. “Nothing can be done secretly. It’s a transparent system designed to protect individual rights and compound the trust
between citizens and their government.”

Information that is entered into the Estonian ID-system can’t be altered or even looked at unless the owner of the data is alerted. The medical or financial or criminal records in the system are, therefore, guaranteed to be trustworthy. Further, the database is designed as a rival kind of ecosystem of the Facebook’s and Google’s, but as a secure public alternative designed to benefit citizens rather than private corporations, according to the book.

Keen is very well aware of the fact that many people think Estonia goes too far and that a government shouldn’t have that much access to all our data.

“But one of the unavoidable consequences of the digital revolution is the massive explosion of personal data on the network. Like it or not, this data is only going to grow exponentially with the development of smart homes, smart cars, smart cities, and, above all, all the other smart objects driving the internet of things. We don’t have a choice about any of this. But what we do have a choice about is the amount of transparency we demand of the governments or corporations that have access to our personal data,” he writes.

The Germans Can Win the Second Half

According to Keens sources in Germany, Germany lost the first half of the digitsation game to Silicon Valley. So how can Germany win the second half of the digital game, Keen asks and continues:

“The answer probably lies in the country’s historical tradition of successfully reengineering technological revolutions begun elsewhere.” And later, to follow up on this point, he states: “It was German car manufacturers who reinvented their products and marketing to satisfy a new consumer demand for safer vehicles.

Andrew Keen points to some of the German start-ups like Cliqz (who visited DataEthics Forum 2017) and AdblockPlus & Flattr (who is coming for DataEthics Forum 2018) calling them disruptive platforms. AdblockPlus, for example, has inspired Apple to build in an adblocker in its latest version of Safari, while Google has started sorting out some ads from Chrome, as long as the ad tech industry agrees on that. Keen interviews the co-founder of Eyeo (behind AdblockPlus) Kim Schumacher who says, that Adblock Plus is acting as a ‘trustee of the consumerø in empowering users to configure the platform and that they are are “establishing rules on a lawless industry,” refering to the ad tech industry. The plans of Eyeo is to combine Adblock Plus with the Swedish company, that they bought, Flattr’s 200,000 users and 30,000 publishers—
and thereby taking out the intermediary and enabling consumers to directly fund advertising-free online content, particularly journalism.

The CEO of Cliqz sums up why the Germans will win the second half.

Al-Hames believes that Silicon Valley is not remotely prepared for the future. Like those shortsighted Chevrolet executives in the 1960s, who believed they could continue forever to sell chrome-plated coffins to unsuspecting consumers, American tech companies just take it for granted that the current data ecosystem will remain intact, he says in the book. “The current system of tracking users, which has transformed the internet into a giant inspection house is out of control and eventually must change. Consumers simply don’t want it,” he says.

‘God’ has Met his Match in Margrethe Vestager

Andrew Keen believes that Google is not only trying to become both church and state in the digital world but also to play God. That the great search monopoly wants total control, its own ‘full digital
monty’ — control of all the online platforms, services, products,and stores in the networked economy. But as Keen sums up: “God, however, might have met his match in a fortynine-year-old Danish mother of three from a small town in West Jutland.”

He’s talking of Margrethe Vestager, the EU antitrust commissioner calling her tech-savy as opposed to the Google-sponsored Politico calling her a technophobe. With her courage to go up against big tech and regulate she holds on of the answers to  determining the future of the global technology industry; regulation.

If the markets are left completely unfettered, Vestager tells Keend, you get “winner-take-all” companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google. And a totally unregulated market, she adds, offers no protection for the start-up entrepreneur.

One solution to the surveillance economy is to reintroduce a more traditional form of monetary exchange
and get people to once again pay for newspapers and other curated forms of online content, she says. Another solution is for entrepreneurs to work on digital products that are specifically built around the guarantee of privacy, namely privacy by design. And then Keen throws in the EU privacy regulation, GDPR, where privacy is the norm and where it is crytal clear who owns the personal data on the internet.

“It’s ours. Ours alone,” as he writes.

Get the book