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Why DataEthics is Leaving the ADD-project

Below is our letter of resignation. You can also read an article about it here in Radar.

Dear Sine, Lisbeth and David (the three leaders of the project Algoritmer, Data & Democracy)

First and foremost, we would like to praise you for the many important initiatives the ADD project has launched in Denmark, both in research and public education on the use of algorithms and data. As one of the first Danish NGOs in the field, we at DataEthics have therefore participated as a partner in the ADD project with great interest, and we have appreciated this important effort focusing on democracy, data and algorithms in Denmark.

We are therefore sorry that we are now forced to withdrawing as a partner in the ADD project. From the media coverage of ADD’s activities in recent days, we can see that Google has been accepted as a partner in the project. It is DataEthics’ opinion that Google in several ways does not live up to the data ethics requirements and expectations that can reasonably be expected of a powerful commercial player operating in the market in democratic societies.

With its business model and strategy, products and services, Google has thus

  • Promoted the harvesting and use of personal data for its own commercial purposes, including by scraping and analyzing content from services that should be developed according to privacy-by-design and privacy-by-default principles and ensure users’ right to privacy.
  • Provided free services to public authorities in order to extend their products and services to sectors and institutions where few alternatives exist, thus cementing a monopoly-like position.
  • Exercised soft power on many levels, including financial support for research, municipal projects and other activities through which they can use their influence to promote their own business interests.

Google’s activities have also led to;

  • A series of fines imposed by Data Protection Authorities in the EU totaling around €215 million for non-compliance with the data protection requirements of the GDPR.
  • Fines in both the EU and the US for, among other things, abusing its monopoly in search engines and by promoting its own services. Google is currently accused by the US government of abusing its monopoly by paying billions of US dollars to Apple to be the default search engine in Safari.
  • The Google Chrome case, which is pending at the Danish Data Protection Agency in Denmark and uncovers the use of data about students in the Danish primary school at all grade levels and across the country.

In doing so, Google influences democratic structures in a non-transparent and irresponsible manner, with no regard for the consequences for citizens’ fundamental rights and consumer protection that their business model, products and services entail.

DataEthics made it clear when we joined as a partner in the ADD project that we did not want to participate if the tech giants were given the opportunity to partner. At the time, we were told that this was unlikely.

We have now also realised that Microsoft has been accepted as a partner (their logo is on the partner site). In general, we consider it important that the perspective of the private sector is included in the work with algorithms, data and democracy, and also that this is done through multi-stakeholder initiatives such as the ADD project with the participation of industry associations and a few smaller companies with Danish or European perspectives, values and interests.

However, we believe that the visible, but especially the invisible influence that large American technology companies in particular have on our democracy and democratic socio-technical infrastructures has caused a problematic power shift. We have only in recent years begun to address this with the development and implementation of important legislation and other governance commitments. Right now, we are therefore in the midst of a very sensitive political and legislative development and negotiation process in Denmark and the EU – especially in the area of artificial intelligence. Big tech companies have a special interest in this that goes far beyond the prioritization of human interests and therefore requires special vigilance in important democracy initiatives such as the ADD project.

With kind regards

Birgitte Kofod Olsen Chairperson and co-founder page2image8816048

This letter was translated by the help of

Read our report on how Big Tech exerts Soft Power in Denmark