Why the GDPR signals a greater battle over data

22 : 05 : 2018 Data : GDPR : Privacy

Irene Ng, chairman of the HAT Foundation Group, explores how regulations such as the GDPR are just the beginning of a new power play between consumers and service providers.

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The issue isn’t consent. It’s power to control our own digital persona.

Irene Ng, chairman, HAT Foundation Group

The internet is a strange nation, and quite different from what we are used to. For one, in this internet nation, where the digital persona is a citizen, almost all internet services are commercial, so the moment we step into the connected digital world we are consuming a service that is provided by an organisation. It’s like walking out the door and needing to pay a toll for all of the pavements, roads, parks and corners, whether it’s in money or data.

The internet as a nation lacks even basic societal services such as the right to have private places to have private conversations or the use of public goods. On the internet, it’s all centralised systems, often controlled by technology giants. They do give us a great service, but we are never private.

More importantly, as a digital persona, we don’t really own any of that data – it’s held in bits and pieces by companies that we interact with. Every app we sign up to we have to fill in all of our information again and the app controls all of our data. We are technologically inferior citizens on the internet. Organisations have far superior technology and can manipulate the digits and data better than we can. In short, we don’t speak ‘data’. Since companies do, we ask them to talk to one another – about us.

The battle post-GDPR is the battle for who can speak data better; that is, create better data from what exists, better signals or derivatives of the data that is more accurate, more insightful and more valuable to us.

We use Google and Facebook to log in to other websites and apps because they speak data among themselves. In this way, we find ourselves slowly being served to oblivion, a slow erosion of our power, our rights – all in the name of service. Companies can’t be blamed for this. They ask us for consent each time. What else can they do? The issue isn’t consent. It’s power to control our own digital persona. And we don’t have it because first we don’t have the raw material that forms the persona (data) and second we don’t have the technology to speak the language of data.

The raw material is the personal data generated from our browsing, postings, clicks, views, likes, records and information. EU legislation in 2018, from General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to Payment Services Directive 2 (PSD2), is giving us as individuals the power to access our data from corporations. We must use the technology available not only to access it, but to use it better. To access it, you can select your own data agent – such as a personal information management system such as digi.me, or go further and get the technology to own and use your data through a Hub of All Things (HAT) micro-server or a SOLID server.

To use it is to speak the language of data. The battle post-GDPR is the battle for who can speak data better; that is, create better data from what exists, better signals or derivatives of the data that are more accurate, more insightful and more valuable to us. We must be able to own and control the data, and have the technology to use it effectively.

We don’t need our personal data out there to be erased. That’s not how the battle works. The battle is to have the same powers, to interact in the internet nation on a level playing field. You see, we can’t disconnect. But in connecting, we are the source that generates most of the raw material for the connected world. And when we connect, we should be able to speak data so that if Tripadvisor wants to know if I’m travelling, I do not have to give it my Google Calendar, but ping it a signal using the technology I own.

The future internet will be a battle for economic power and to be able to stand side by side with institutions and choose who governs us. And we choose by giving data out to whoever we find deserving. The battle for us as individuals is a battle to be powerful, to NOT be inferior citizens of the internet nation – to speak data.

Irene Ng is professor of marketing and service systems at WMG, University of Warwick, and chairman of the HAT Foundation Group. This is an edited version of an original article published on Medium.

Lab Notes

  • Most companies are approaching the GDPR as a consent issue, but as Ng notes there is a greater battle around data ahead.
  • Consumers will increasingly require control over their data, using micro-servers like HAT to gain more control. They will put more trust in brands that give them the freedom to access their services, without necessarily running amok with their data