Wishes for 2017: Will we start considering personal data as more than a commodity?

Personal data is more than a commodity: it is a part of our digital selves and should be protected as such

On the one hand, we are told that good things happen to those who give more data to digital platforms, and that the free flow of information, not data localization, holds the key to the future of globalization (CFR, World Economic Forum). More data is the key to digital services that are better tailored to our needs and to solve our problems in the fields of health (TechCrunch, WIRED), insurance (The Guardian), personal assistants (The Verge) conditional to new advances in machine-learning.

On the other hand, policy decisions over the governance of personal data are increasingly being privatized (The Guardian). The extraction of personal data is increasingly analyzed as a form of modern exploitation (The Guardian), and coincides with a rise in inequalities that some call surveillance capitalism (FAZ). Beyond how to tax digital giants (The Guardian), the value of personal data is elusive hence the efforts to regulate it comprehensively, not as a mere commodity (The Guardian).

We need to escape the metaphor framing digital giants as neutral platforms using neutral software to provide neutral services (The Baffler, The Baffler or The Baffler). Yes, data is a currency (The Guardian) but to some extent we should be the one being paid (The Guardian). Digital giants should be more transparent and accountable (ProPublica) on the data they use and how, and we should be given more control over the life-cycle of our data.

My prediction for 2017 is that data will stop being considered as the “fuel” of the 21st century, and will start being considered as its “fabric.” This will provide an opportunity to look into the sweatshops where this fabric is created, and explain the impact of this exploitation of our personal data on global inequalities to form a Digital Rights Movement.

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