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Facebook: a new paradigm for personal data?

Posted on: Tuesday 21st of June 2016

For the last eighteen months we (Ctrl-Shift) have been working with Facebook on a global consultation exercise to discover what needs to be done to create a sustainable, trust-driven data economy.

We’ve talked to privacy experts, lawyers, consumer advocates, regulators, innovators and big business across the world: Amsterdam, Berlin, Brasilia, Hong Kong, London, Madrid, New York, San Francisco Paris, Sao Paulo, Warsaw and the summary of our findings were announced in Amsterdam yesterday. Check out the co-created report here.



To sum up an incredibly rich and thought-provoking discussion rather ruthlessly, we came down to five core conclusions.

First, there are fundamental problems with the concept of ‘consent’ and the associated belief that all our problems would be solved if only consumers were better informed and educated. ‘Informed consent’ and ‘education’ impose a potentially huge burden of work on consumers, often completely unnecessarily. Why should I have to [beef up] on things when, if we stop and think about it, I should be able to take it for granted that I will be safe and treated fairly? Clearly, we don’t want people to be uninformed and uneducated, but consent and education in themselves are not a panacea.

Second, the challenge of achieving a fair value exchange goes much deeper than most people yet realise. Fairness and value aren’t just about what happens within existing relationships between individuals and organisations; it also involves realising the potentially huge personal and social benefits of data – potential which so far remains largely untapped and unleashed. The data economy won’t be seen to be truly fair until individuals can get as much value from using their data as organisations.

Third, there’s a potentially vast gulf between regulations written with the right intentions and the right sort of regulation. Ill-designed regulations create farces like the European cookie laws. Tick box compliance is not half as good as regulations that encourage and incentivize companies to achieve goals regulators want them to achieve.

Fourth, there’s growing need for leadership. Big global brands grew to be big and global because they could be trusted. They need to accept responsibility for building trust across the data-driven economy. (By the way, the last two points mean that both businesses and regulators may need to rethink some long-standing assumptions and positions if we are to make real progress.)

Finally, whatever we do, the policies and practices we implement need to be designed for real people, not for mythical beings who are always ‘rational’, who always instantly absorb and understand all available information there is about a subject, and then always make the right, considered, informed decision.

In our current data economy two simple, basic, and pivotal things need to be achieved. People need to feel the status quo is safe. (Currently, they don’t). And they need to experience the full upside potential of using their own data for personal and social purposes. it’s a win-win-win for individuals, society and business if this happens.

Clearly, if we are to build a sustainable, flourishing data-driven economy, a lot more needs to be done.

So what’s next. Watch this space.