Self-Sovereign Identities and Data Ownership - Towards a Future that Benefits All
Updated: Dec 29, 2019
Many people have a hard time envisioning a different future. No matter how apparent the need for change might be. More and more people are becoming aware of the risks of surveillance capitalism. Companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, UBER, Equifax and others have done more than their fair share in the form of data breaches, consumer rights and privacy violations and not to forget anti-competitive behavior to bring the topic to the forefront in the media. Almost daily you can read articles on how Internet services are designed to draw us in, become addictive and manipulate our thinking and actions. Companies such as Facebook not only spread misinformation in political ads and put our democracies at unacceptable risk, but even benefit financially when individuals are micro-targeted with tailored propaganda. The web has become a scam.
Even in the US, the public debate around privacy and the need to break up platform monopolies is well on its way. Presidential candidate Andrew Yang advocated that data should be the property of the people generating it. Elizabeth Warren seeks to break up platform monopolies for the benefit of consumers, competition and innovation.
This entire debate now is shifting the way we as a society think about data and privacy. A few years ago Google said that privacy was dead. Today Mark Zuckerberg says that “The Future is Private”. The problem however is that a future where consumers own and control their data is completely at odds with the business model of these companies, and when you review the privacy settings you see how complicated they make it in the hope that you will simply give up.
Today a few companies control the most important services and amass huge amounts of data about their users. The platforms can leverage that data to create ever more fine-grained ways to target individual consumers. That in itself is positive for advertisers, but it also creates a huge dependency on very few players that continue to increase their share of ad spend. And these players now enter more on more markets where they directly compete with retailers, pharmacies, health insurance providers and so forth. Facebook, Google or Amazon will be in a far better position to assess your health risks than any insurance company ever will be, quite simply because they have comprehensive data about what you eat, how active you are etc etc. And they are not regulated the same way that for instance an insurance company is. Also, where companies have data, they are often not allowed to use certain data under existing regulations. A world in which a few companies control the data and the access to the consumer, all that is left for the rest is to deal with the painful, regulated part of the business such as underwriting risk that Internet services have no interest in doing because of the complexity and low margins. Likewise, platform companies will have no interest whatsoever to get into the business of building cars, a highly regulated and low margin business. Platform companies are interested in leveraging their infrastructure and user access to turn data into scalable services and create ever more sophisticated targeting mechanisms.
The risks of surveillance capitalism have become more than apparent. Even employees of platform players are keenly aware of the issues they have, often unintentionally, created. The high morale standards that some web players have created for themselves have become a farce as employees protest against their own leadership. Political and business leaders, and even more so, all of us as humans, citizens and consumers must become part of a movement that declares the right to our own data a human right. If data is the most valuable asset on the planet, we all must benefit from it. As more and more people become aware of the problems related to unchecked surveillance capitalism, one big part that has been missing are alternative solution to the existing centralized web. Over the next weeks and months, we will discuss concepts and solutions to an issue that many technology leaders have described as the most pressing issue of our time. And we will not only discuss how the world can be a better place, but also how companies can simplify compliance with data regulations and reduce liability. We will discuss how humans can own and control their data and use it as a traceable and programmable asset. Done right, both individual humans, businesses and governments can create value from data to the benefit of all of us and the planet.
The beautiful thing about digital technologies is the rapid pace of innovation. I am convinced: In a few years we will look back at surveillance capitalism the same way as we look at smoking in offices and restaurants today. I think if we get the three pieces of the puzzle right – regulation, social ethics around the use of data and new technologies – we will see a movement develop that will change the world for the better.
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