What we may learn from foods about how to handle our data correctly
Up to now we have relied on the industry’s voluntary self-commitment regarding the handling of our data in the digital world. Indeed, every now and then somebody like Max Schrems or a minister refers to the German or European Data Protection Acts. But these references fizzle out and do not really make an impact.
It is up to us, the consumers, to pull the strings: If we avoid services which do not handle our data correctly the industry would possibly adjust to this situation. Or some other fair offers would be given a chance. But unfortunately this vision is utopian in a complex digital world like ours which most of the users do not entirely comprehend.
Foods captured by the market economy
Until some years ago the situation in the food industry was similar. Food production was determined by market-based mechanisms which led to a continually growing productivity and an ongoing price cut. Eventually, this process resulted in the fact that the food industry has increasingly diverged from the consumers’ moral concept.
The organic movement’s merit
In the 1970s being organic was reserved for derided intellectual nuts. People interested in this organic movement pursued different targets. In the last few years the movement’s merit was characterized by the articulation of the complex directions and objectives such as:
- extensive land use,
- animal protection,
- no use or reduction of pesticides,
- rejection of genetically modified foods and fodder.
The essence of all the aspects mentioned above is to withdraw from the dictates of efficiency imposed by the market economy and the capitalism. By deciding for labelled organic products the consumer expresses her or his attitude without having to check every detail of the complex issue herself or himself.
The organic approach and our ambivalent relationship to the big concerns
The organic concept can help at least some consumers to withdraw from the monopole-driven efficiency cycle of Monsanto, Nestlé and Unilever. Of course especially those who can afford it.
And anyone who would like to act with responsibility needs to forgo the freedom of choice in some fields: Regarding the sustainability it apparently makes no sense to wish for organic strawberries from Timbuktu in November.
However, as an investor for our personal pension scheme we love reckless capitalists like Monsanto, Nestlé, Apple and Google, who delight us with a fairly good rate of return or increasing share prices. In total we as humans are considerably ambivalent.
Why not transferring the organic approach to the digital world?
Despite all the known negative sides of the organic seal and other labelling concepts the organic approach can be transferred to the digital world and in favour of our demand for digital values. The better handling of our data has diverse dimensions which are more or less important to us and which initially leave an undetermined image.
What is critical from the users’ point of view is the fact that even in the digital world the big concerns’ overall objective is to make the market mechanisms more efficient with regard to the sale of goods and services:
- Disclosure and sale of data to other services.
- Data analysis by big data to analyse and manipulate our behaviour.
- Data networking without our consent.
- State-run misuse of the data collected by private companies.
- Reduction of control by data collection.
From the consumers’ point of view the pure commitment to whether the data processing happens in accordance with the strict German data protection legislation is not enough for an evaluation. We as consumers need comprehensible additional information on how the companies deal with our need for protection.
A digital organic seal as a label for a fair digital world
I am convinced that similar to the organic concept certificates and labels for digital services can also help the majority of consumers making a choice and especially offer an incentive for alternative offers. A digital organic seal may combine the consumers’ different aspects in a simple concept for digital values and as a result ensure a perceptibility on the market.
With an organic digital movement we may also address those who behave sceptically with regard to anything digital: Many of them do not oppose the application of digital technologies as such. They primarily struggle against the extent to which the market economy exploits these technologies, as we have experienced through US-American companies from the Silicon Valley, such as Google and Facebook, over the last years. An organic seal may help us applying digital technologies user-friendly and with less potential for misuse on a daily basis.
Just as companies such as Monsanto and Nestlé continue to exist in an organic world, Facebook and Google will do in a world with organic seal labelling, as the concept marks only the beginning of a process of rethinking. However, or for exactly this reason, we should start to pool and enunciate the users’ interests!
Read more articles on my blog stefanfritz.de.