The social consequences of the way we use data are uncharted. There are indications that we all can become victims of dark forces and hidden influences from data.
A seduction based on a misunderstood conviction that data and digital technology always call a spade for a spade.
That seduction I call ‘Data-Driven Democracy’ and that concept will shape your life in the future. The question is whether you trust yourself to resist the temptations.
I. DATA-DRIVEN SURVEILLANCE
In the contemporary data-driven democracy, we are all under constant surveillance either voluntarily or completely without realizing. Denmark is ranked first among the world’s most digitized – and thus also the most data-driven – societies. This also means that Danes are among the most watched in the world. In Denmark, we monitor ourselves – both voluntarily and involuntarily. But we have only just begun to discover it.
The way we use data as a resource emphasizes that Denmark is already a data-driven democracy. The change has happened and is affecting our lives – here and now!
There is growing distrust of the way we use and consume data. Digitization has created a culture of surveillance characterized by fragmentation of democratic influence and legitimacy.
We have become deaf to the surveillance of a data-driven democracy. We have created a new type of post-democratic control society in which the individual participates in interaction with public and private control measures and – consciously or unconsciously – submits to a digital panopticon of self-control, self-control or self-censorship.
Public and private data processing takes place in a gray zone between voluntary and involuntary monitoring. Without notice, your data is used for commercial or governmental purposes.
If you’re using an app, consider whether your app gives you more than you give your app.
The surveillance culture disrupt fundamental democratic ideas about a state that guarantees protection of transparency, freedom of speech, the right to privacy and ownership of personal data. In the data-driven democracy, you are forced to defend yourself.
While involuntary monitoring happens without your consent, voluntary monitoring is a consequence of a number of ‘free’ choices and decisions that you make yourself. It is debatable whether your decisions are based on rationality or informed accept. The surveillance culture has a built-in latent imbalance – a disharmony, which I call ‘cognitive dissonance’.
II. COGNITIVE DISSONANCE
Data-driven democracy involves a non-transparent exchange of rights where a number of ethical, legal and human rights issues are challenged.
It creates cognitive dissonance. If you want access, you are forced to choose between two equally bad alternatives: Acceptance of surveillance – or exclusion.
Many write-off basic rights in an exchange where online access is traded for ownership of the data generated by the activity.
Do you pay for access by completely or partially decline ownership of your personal raw data?
Have you also become indifferent or incapacitated towards public and private use of personal data? The consolation is that if you do nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.
But cognitive dissonance transform basic democratic and commercial rules of the game. The majority chooses to accept restrictions on personal freedom and other democratic rights. The choice is between going ‘off-grid’ or participating in blind faith.
If you need to consider if your app gives you more than you give your app – trust is not part of the business model
Cognitive dissonance is a pivotal theme in a growing distrust towards the surveillance culture that dominates data-driven democracy. You are forced to choose between two equally bad alternatives. This means that in given situations you act against common sense or your own beliefs.
Data-driven democracy promotes a form of social control where you participate ‘voluntarily’ to avoid social exclusion.
Thus Cognitive dissonance represents a post-democratic marker that poses a central dilemma in a data-driven surveillance culture.
III. COGNITIVE BALANCE
Although the purpose of digitization initially appears legitimate and commendable, there is a critical lack of compass directions for ethics, morality and democratic control. The initial dream that social media would give global individual freedom, equality, fraternity and increased understanding between peoples is replaced with growing skepticism.
It requires a transparent balancing act to avoid dissonance in public and private use of data. Governance must balance three elements:
Firstly, regulating the use of data is a legal quagmire that neither provides transparency to the user nor support digital innovation. At the same time, private platforms enforce their standards of self-regulation with their own business in mind.
When children and adults find their way around a data-driven democracy, they must navigate an obscure legal complexity. It cannot be expected to give meaningful consent for the ‘uninitiated’. Most people cannot understand the legal consequences of the choices they make online. It challenges their legal rights.
Second, technology has innate criminogenic properties that make the digital domain the ideal crime scene for ‘the perfect crime’. The victim participates in the majority of crime online – either in good faith, inadvertently or in varying degrees of negligence. A single click may contradict your own interests. This will make anyone vulnerable and insecure. Confidence in the future of data use is contingent on how we limit the alarming rise in the number of users who become victims of various forms of digital deviance or crime. It damages online credibility.
Third, the interaction between humans and technology has innate psychosocial mechanisms that influence the rationality of your choices. It results in a seduction where others challenge your common sense, habits and values. You will be lured into actions that you normally would not engage in or even regret later. You will have difficulty, trusting whether your choices are in fact your own.
Overall, there is a critical need for a wealth of confidence-building measures across a wide range of problem areas. But trusting public and private use of data is first and foremost a complex political challenge, where cognitive dissonance is a theme across the many challenges.
Trust depends on whether users are able to recognize how public authorities and private companies use digital opportunities and new technology. There are no shortcuts or quick-fixes to restore digital credibility. The challenge is to formulate a political direction that balances specific actions.
Transparency is a prerequisite for balance. Cognitive balance is a prerequisite for trust. Specific political openness about data usage should follow the basic principle that transparency means you can see through the digital choices you make. Right down to the smallest click.