Just my luck: having to communicate about complex concepts like privacy with a soggy cake junkie… But I will cast aside my resistance because you raise an important topic with that ‘invasion of privacy’. Exchanging personal information, preferably about slightly ridiculous titbits, forges a bond. And gossip is a universal human need, essential for the creation of friendship and animosity and maintaining the social order in communities. Something like monkeys grooming, behavioural scientists say.
Back in 1875 even the people at Bell Labs believed the phone would never be found in every house (let alone in everyone’s coat pocket): what would people have to tell each other? A lot, we now know. And most of it is social talk: gossip. Same thing with the internet. It started as a communications network for scientists, some user friendly applications were developed and there you are: just about every adolescent produces a constant stream of pics, vlogs and tweets. So that people will talk about them or they can gossip themselves. And because gossip feels awkward in writing, we invented the emoji that everyone sprinkles over their electronic communication nowadays.
All this online self exposure is fun, friendly and hardly ever earth-shattering. But mainly it’s also an ineradicable human desire. And that’s why it can turn perilous or painful: cyber bullying, private photos and videos that go worldwide, sexting, extortion, you name it. These are tough problems. We as a government have learned two hard lessons: we cannot force a change of behaviour. People will still be sloppy with passwords, their posts and whom they share their data with.
And malevolent digital actors (from adolescent bullies to genuine criminals) are notoriously hard to track down and prosecute, if only because they can operate anonymously or are far, far away. That’s why we not only try to tackle the perpetrators, but also want to empower potential victims. We do that with campaigns aimed at awareness and education. Commercials on tv, but also school materials, websites, ad campaigns, etcetera. It helps, but with this approach we only cover part of the problem - or rather: the assembly of problems we capsulise as ‘digital privacy’. It also stretches our stamina as a civil service considerably.
I think one of the reasons why the problem is so tough, is people not really getting the ‘mechanics’ and ‘dynamics’ of all these digital novelties. The speed with which you give away things without actually losing anything yourself. The ease with which you can copy things free of any charge and then share them with half the world, not knowing who’s out there. Can a better understanding of these mechanisms possibly make people more sensible in their dealings with data and digital services? You sparked my curiosity by telling me about SETUP and the employment of humour to provide insight into data issues to a wider audience. Could that be of any help?
Much of our energy as a government now goes to introducing the European Commission’s general data protection regulation, which will come into force on May 25 2018. With that GDPR the present EU framework, dating from the previous century, is modernised and made more suitable for the digital domain.
Companies that process data (just about any company really) must have a transparent privacy statement, make clear what they use data for, and may not demand more data than needed for their services. Companies are held accountable for their handling of data (and therefore will have to keep data on that) and everyone must be able to easily transfer their own data to another service provider (data portability).
In short: making laws is important, but more is needed. Awareness in citizens, ethical acting by companies, market incentives for privacy friendly solutions. We’re in a transitional phase. Companies should see the importance of acting privacy friendly as a unique selling point. So, a matter of stick and carrot.
On your job application in 2023: an American company already assesses requests for loans with artificial intelligence and machine learning. They process 70.000 markers per request (yes, you read that right), comprising the date on which you opened your most recent bank account and your use of language in Facebook updates. In short: it’s there and it’s alive. This issue has far wider implications than privacy and poses new questions for governments.
In the future algorithms will decide on your suitability for a job or your eligibility for a mortgage, but also on the the treatment of your disease. These decisions are better (theoretically that is), but it feels awkward and uncertainty and suspicion lurk. In practice though unwanted things won’t happen easily. For example, in the Netherlands data may not be used to exclude people from insurance, and this is not a matter for discussion either.
As to having my privacy boundary crossed I had think for a bit. I felt like writing: I live such an obedient life and I do so little on social media that it barely bothers me. But you mean something different, something that sounds like an invasion of your autonomy and your right to self determination. Or am I wrong?
In ‘Privacy for homo digitalis’ the lawyers Moerel and Prins say that privacy is ‘an antechamber for other fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, which together are in turn instrumental for the correct functioning of our democratic constitutional state.’ Do you mean something like that? However, I will get back to that.
It does surprise me though that you say your privacy boundary is overstepped all the time. I read everywhere that the young are more conscious of privacy but also have a more relaxed attitude towards it. Are you an exception or are the reports wrong?
I’d love to learn that from you soon!