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To be paid for your Data Use?

June 29, 2020

As people start to see the damage to society that current prevalent internet behemoth business models are doing, they seek to offer alternative approaches. One that keeps rearing its head is to be paid for your data and its use. We object to that idea on many levels – while agreeing with the basic premise that your data should be treated “as if” it belonged to you. In other words your rights over your digital self should be respected. Rights enshrined in human rights legislation. This is definitely a European vs US ‘legal’ style of approach, but being a European who worked in California in the late 90’s and early 2000’s I can say with surety that I feel far more in control of my digital self in the EU than I ever did or currently would in the US. That’s not to say I feel in control, far from it. But at least i have some tools to fight back with.

However, lets look at the basic idea of being paid for data:

This article https://www.theverge.com/2020/6/22/21298919/andrew-yang-big-tech-data-dividend-project-facebook-google-ubi kind of summarises latest thinking. It’s basically flawed because it will exacerbate the digital divide and further centralise power to those than can ‘afford’ to pay you. Those that can afford not to be paid will achieve superior privacy rights, those that cannot afford will have to subject themselves to an ever increasing ‘data use’ – society will be commercialised, even more than it currently is.

What’s needed is

1. A focus on minimising data needed (this includes limiting retention and transmission needs) to deliver a service – this should be a point of innovation where possible.

2. Platform approaches which disseminate data-use power closer to the edge so the context of use can be more readily understood and policed

3. Closer to the edge means ensuring/supporting greater national or even more local (state) regulatory oversight so they can compete to offer users a trusted digital space

4. Create competition for ‘trustworthiness’ between data users/managers/orchestrators to create an upward spiral instead of the current eternal downwards spiral of trust in digital services.

Data minimisation is critical because despite what many say, most people really don’t want to manage their data – one of the arguments for being paid is to make them care, a flawed argument as described above. However if they don’t care at all it’s left entirely up to legislators to police and that’s been well proven to be a slow reactive approach in which most nation states are massively out gunned by the tech behemoths that have evolved. The middle ground is to strongly police data minimisation, extol the virtues of platforms that do so, and so enable explicit consented mechanisms for data access by service providers along with clearly and simply communicated ‘purpose’. If data is minimised, taking people through these consent processes is no longer onerous and more importantly they become more informed – which directly equates to greater empowerment of the individual.

The other three points set an agenda for a new model of commercialisation – it re-instates localisation of regulatory power closer to the edge, it seeks to create competition between states and services to empower individuals – and therein lies the central problem of the Internet today – disempowerment of the individual leads to distrust in digital services and eventually to the digital apathy we have to day that allows the GAFA tech orgs to continue to exist – people just don’t think they can re-assert control, so they give up. Unless we equate a ‘replacement’ business model to re-empowerment of the individual we cannot address this central problem and we cannot re-enable community and cultural norms in the context of place thru digital – which at its heart is what the GAFAs have effectively killed off and drives extremist digital activity. This business model has to be centred around digital engagement services, not peoples data.

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