Privacy is the cornerstone of freedom and liberty. In business, as in our personal lives, there are things we want to keep confidential by all means. Yet, privacy is a disappearing treasure in the digital age of data in which we live. Internet giants like Amazon, Facebook and Alphabet (Google, YouTube) have built billion dollar empires on the basis of using our data.
We share more personal data than ever before. The law tries to help and protect users, but sometimes it’s not enough. Protection often becomes a hurdle or patronizing, and the data breach occurs anyway. Data collected today, regardless of whether it is compiled by corporations or even by governments in total good faith, could be misused by someone else like hackers tomorrow. That data then becomes a commodity for actors whose intentions are obscure to say the least.
Let me repeat: Privacy is the cornerstone of liberty and freedom. Privacy is based on private ownership, and our data is one of the biggest assets in these modern times. Unfortunately, most of our data is owned by someone else, gathered as we browse the web, identifiable by our IP address, GPS data and even our spoken word. Where privacy and anonymity are lacking, the abuse of that personal data isn’t far.
“But what about the GDPR?” you might ask. Well, while it brought some improvement in the European Union, it is not nearly enough. Perhaps, if governments fail to stand up to the data corporates of our time, it is within our responsibility to do so. Luckily, Blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) give us tools to do so — but more on that later.
Companies do more than analyze our data to recognize and predict our needs and wants and serve them. If corporations succeed in serving our every want and need, they will also make us more passive, complacent and prone to listen to them in the future. A very dangerous and slippery road for a free, critical and independent society.
The precondition for independent and critical thinking is independent and unbiased, diverse news. Yet the artificial intelligence (AI)-based algorithms of Facebook and the like analyze our every social interaction to give us more of the news and ads we seem to respond to. The result are shockingly detailed user profiles that can be used to influence us in subtle but profound ways. This was best illustrated by the Cambridge Analytica scandal where user profiles where harnessed to influence the political views and democratic vote of targeted individuals.
I am convinced that we must not underestimate the degree to which our existing reality is already influenced by the algorithms we feed on a daily basis. The result is an echo chamber with monotony of opinion and views, leading to a further strengthening of our beliefs, maybe even akin to “self-indoctrination”. The potential social costs to the power of algorithms to influence our thinking and behavior is enormous. It must be fought to preserve our humanity, dignity and a world in which our children can grow up to become educated, critical, independent citizens.
What then are we to do? Prohibiting the use of AI seems neither possible nor desirable, also in the light of its positive use cases in fields like medicine and research. It strikes me that, more than ever before, we need more transparency. Instead of “transparent citizens”, we need an ethical code that ensures transparency and accountability from corporations and the data they own and how they use it. This is required in an age where data and the insights derived from it can be likened to digital gold.
To bring this about, we need to steer the usage of technologies like AI in a certain direction and take precautions. We should continue to interact with each other in person, even if services are provided in digital form. It must be man-to-machine-leadership, not the other way around. Therefore, let us use digital platforms that eliminate intermediaries, accelerate and ensure processes, but which will still be governed and controlled in a democratic way by humans in the future, and not vice versa. This is where Blockchain and DLT come into play.
Yes, all this may sound very far-fetched. But it isn’t — in fact, far from it, as you will see for yourself when researching more deeply into this topic. Don’t choose to be complacent and only read a little bit into it. Follow this little series to get or refresh at least a basic understanding. Then decide if you want to make a contribution that can still benefit your great-grandchildren. Because whether the dollar, euro or bitcoin are still worth something tomorrow, doesn’t matter if we are no longer free to decide what to do with them…
Then, take the next step: Educate yourself. Make your own informed decision about how you want to deal with this issue in the future. Jump right in and read the first chapter and consider how you can become part of the change you want to see.
Bernhard Koch | Founder CRYPTIX