Of the billions of pieces of data accumulated on the Internet, some have “special value” and are of such interest that they attract great, even “ogre-ish” appetites…
This is “sensitive” or “personal” data, especially health data including genome sequencing, the exploitation and commercialisation of which create a huge market that provides enormous and increasing wealth to those who have acquired it by means of – a silent hold-up!
Just a few years ago, internet users were astonished to see that having ordered a book on Amazon, a few seconds later you would receive a list of similar works; or that on looking for a good restaurant in your area, you would be able to read so much information about offerings that the final decision became quite complicated! Or, amused and won over by the possibilities offered by connected objects, you might decide to acquire some of these tools, hoping to benefit from improved monitoring of your health.
In a few months, we have witnessed an upheaval in these day to day uses of the Internet. 18 months ago, 37% of respondents (Harris Interactive Barometer) had confidence in digital services and 87% were online daily. Now, however, mistrust is the order of the day. This mistrust centres on the commercial exploitation of sensitive data and the concern that third parties may access personal data.
“The “Cambridge Analytica scandal”, revealed in the media this April, is at the heart of this global upheaval. Personal data belonging to 87 million Facebook users – out of 2 billion active users – has been misused worldwide.
To grasp the scale of the scandal and the seriousness of the consequences which have already ensued, we should clarify some details about BigData and personal information.
Bigdata, “megadata”, or “massive data” refers to data sets so large that they exceed human analytical capabilities, even with the help of traditional database management tools. The analysis of this mass of data can be useful, and can contribute to progress. It can reveal trends which could increase the sum of knowledge or the understanding of hitherto unexplained phenomena, by highlighting correlations between observable facts with no apparent link, and between very diverse factors.
The so-called “Web giants” Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, (GAFAM), hold 80% of the world’s personal data.
Personal data is defined in article 2 of the French act on “Informatique et libertés” [Act of 6 January 1978 on Data Processing, Data Files and Individual Liberties] as follows: “Any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person that reveals their racial or ethnic origins, political, philosophical or religious opinions or trade union membership, or relates to their health or sexual behaviour”
This sensitive data, obtained without the explicit consent of the people concerned, is included in the mass of Big Data which doubles in volume every three years, and contributes to the increasing revenues of “Data Brokers” who sell it at a great profit.
It is, strictly speaking, an alienation, a dispossession of the individual, who loses control of his own assets.
The “economic model” of the e-economy of personal data is specific and not transferable! It is a “closed loop” market. So a smartphone user, or someone who owns connected objects, gives away the “valuable raw material” which this data comprises, which belongs to him, without any care for the use that will be made of it.
After the GAFAM companies have processed the data, the supplier-consumer will end up paying through the nose to benefit from it!
Any effective Privacy Shield is excluded. Neither the legitimate requirements of the CNIL [Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés or National Commission on Informatics and Liberty] nor the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), will make it possible to stem this global tide. The European regulation, applicable from 25th May 2018, is supposed to give more rights to the citizen-consumer. In addition to the application of the principle of transparency, the obligation to obtain prior consent for the collection of data, and the obligation to give details of the data controller, the following rights must also be observed – the right to information, the right of access, the “right to be forgotten” by erasure of data, the right to correction, the right to opposition, the right to data portability, the right to limitations on processing, the right to be informed of a breach of protection of personal data (!)… this non-exhaustive list of rights alone suggests that, even in Europe, they will only constitute “virtual” rights whose implementation will prove impracticable.
The CNIL rightly adds that information and communication technologies generate many types of personal data (a call made via a mobile phone, an Internet connection) and also “digital trails” that can be easily exploited thanks to advances in software, particularly search engines.
Financial sanctions or fiscal measures could only be effective if they applied internationally or at least at European level. At present, however, Europe is divided over the taxation of GAFAM companies, proposed by France.
When the turnover of a company reaches 80 billion dollars (Google – 2016) or 215 billion (Apple), issuing it with a fine of 20 million Euros, for abusive commercial practices, will not stop operations. The Facebook scandal cost the GAFAM $216 billion on Wall Street. But their stocks rose sharply, with net income in the first quarter reaching $5 billion, with sales up 49% and the number of active monthly users up 13%.
Even if effective legislation could put an end to the web giants pillaging personal data, the people themselves would continue to feed the market, via connected devices. There are currently 15 billion connected objects worldwide and the forecast for 2020 is 80 to 100 billion.
With regard to innovation, the idea is going around of a paradigm shift, i.e. a new coherent model of the world, which until now has been based on three ethical principles which are recognised as universal, one of which is autonomy expressed through free and express personal consent i.e. “the freedom to say no”
That freedom is disappearing.
Beyond a paradigm shift, have we entered a new civilization, whose “markers” are artificial intelligence, robots, the “dehumanised transhumanism” utopia, the decline of traditional values, and the proliferation of Fake News…a civilization in which personal autonomy is now definitively flouted?
We’re not crazy…
But we are, now,
all, unconsciously, “alienated”.