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A Philosophical View of Digital Society

February 10, 2016

We often get asked by investors, why don’t you take the easy option, you have a solid idea for localised digital engagement, just get the data, sell it and make us all lots of money.

The short answer comes back to this – do we want to contribute to a digital society where this is the modus operandi? Is this the digital society we want to leave behind for our children?  The short answer is no.

But we have to be realistic – there are two tsunami’s of pressure that make it difficult to stand against this sort of way of commercialisation of online engagement.  The first is that the economic imperative will always pressurise digital societal and individual rights – this is as true for the way governments operate as it is for the individual business.  The law is usually insufficient to defend against this pressure because it is retrospective in the face the rapid change in technology, and it’s written by humans, so its open to interpretation by those with funds to do so, and many citizens don’t have the intellectual or financial capacity to exercise their rights. Commercial and economic pressure pushes hard towards favouring the economic opportunity.

The second issue is that commercial law trumps privacy law. I don’t mean explicitly in law, I mean in terms of implementation.  Every director of every company has an overriding imperative to return a profit or financial return for its shareholders.  In digital society personal data is the currency traded to deliver on this imperative.  The law constrains some uses of this data, but the insignificant fines and the weaknesses in the enforcements structures nationally and especially internationally, means that personal privacy has become a cost of doing digital business.

But consumers are starting to become informed about how they are traded online and there is a growing resistance to it.  It’s mostly reflected in the media as security breaches, big businesses are aware its becoming a trust issue.  But there is a big change coming – the General Data Protection Regulation is seeking to get ahead of the laws traditionally retrospective position in digital society.  There are real consumer powers in it and massive fines for those businesses that do not comply.

The innovation opportunity is not to just embrace the regulation as a positive construct, its to recognise that the commercial status quo of digital engagement is about to change, and that change can be accelerated by innovators embracing the underlying principles of privacy en route to constructing a better digital society.  In short to compete on the basis of privacy value and trust in digital engagement.  We can disrupt if we do this.

The only answer to the two commercial pressures outlined previously is to make privacy an asset worth more than covert trade in our personal digital assets.  When that happens governments and businesses will combine to create a better digital society for our children.  This is what we strive for.  It’s why I am driving the creation of an event called Privacy: The Competitive Advantage. Hope to see you there.



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