We can fix ethics and privacy of the data economy without even a fight, with just code and protocol.

There’s an alternative new way to make the digital economy work, but it requires to leave data sharing behind us. Moving towards digital citizenship is possible, if we just take back the control of our data. To do this, we need a powerful and usable ownership protocol. “Code is Law”, said Lessig at the beginning of this century. We can now add “Protocol is Trust”, but we have to do it quickly.

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Photo: Cameron Barnes / Unsplash

About a year ago I tried, together with others, to answer a question: is there a way to run digital economy without data sharing? “There’s nothing I can do once my data is gone. It’s gonesays Amber Baldet, JP Morgan’s former Head of Blockchain. And she is right. There is no Privacy Policy or GDPR that can give us real control. Instead, we need to:

  1. Enable our data to be processed without sharing it and…

Legally enforcing our rights after processing is not a solution and it won’t make black boxes more transparent. The only option to make things work for us and for business is to re-design the process. Impossible? No, and it is just a couple of choices away.

“Make algorithms go to data, not viceversa.”

This is the powerful principle proposed by Hardjono and Pentland (MIT), a principle that can take human beings back to the center of the data ecosystem. But at the same time this means bringing the service dominant economy into a state of chrysalis: we don’t know what will come out of it, but we know that it will be an irreversible transformation.

But we’re going slowly. Too slowly!

While focusing on problems — which is good — we got lost in finding a solution — which is not good. If the “algor-ethics” of the current system is broken, it is not breaking the system that we will make it easier to fix it. With data it doesn’t work this way.

As a society, we need a great new deal with big platforms to convert our data into individual and public good, and it’s hard to imagine such a deal as a result of a fight.

We can’t ignore the huge potential we would achieve if we just could cooperate with big platforms’ info-graphs.

But don’t get me wrong… I am not a fool: criticism is good and we need to foster it to preserve liberties at large, but at the same time I think we simply cannot ignore the financial and technological gap between forces… the price of a fight might be higher than the benefits for both parties. Yes, for both parties.

If the actors of today’s digital ecosystem will be destroyed, we will also lose a huge part of the value our data hold. Preventing this is an option to be responsibly considered. One could say that regulations can avoid such a waste of data, but I am personally not sure. Data is a valuable resource only when it flows and to make it happen we need to start from where we are, not moving backwards. We need more APIs, not walls. We need more edge computing, not data bunkers. We need things that are sometimes unfeasible by a single company or community.

We must move all in the same direction and we must cooperate with big platforms to meet a market whose drivers of choice now includes privacy, ethics and sustainability.

Can we look for a win-win solution? On the acceleration lane of the digital society there will be no room for trenches or Frisian horses, but we need curves designed to be tackled without slowing down.

Our data must be the propellant inside a new engine, a model making us individually more effective and collectively more efficient in creating sustainable value.

“It-could-work!” (Yes, Dr. Frankenstein was right)

We can get privacy without destroying advertising. A fair distribution of the profit generated by the data can be reached without class actions and without a third-party broker. A solution could be written with protocol and code. How? → Here you can find some ideas.

And we don’t need to wait for the policy maker’s first move: we can immediately start a bottom-up transformation with small individual actions. No one gave us a copy-paste recipe yet and -sorry- in my humble opinion nobody will in the future. My suggestion instead is to start moving these principles forward:

  1. Giving more importance to “where” processing is done, not only to “why”. Most algorithms can go to data and even machine learning models can have a federated learning process. It is no longer necessary to require data sharing, let’s accept it as a fact and let’s move forward. This doesn’t mean that the whole digital world must change overnight… this is not a tsunami, it’s a tide. A tide that changes everything.

There are different ways to express the need for a change. This is one, and this doesn’t weakens or preclude others. However, I believe that the time has come to admit that the change we want, the one we really need for a powerful and sustainable digital citizenship, cannot be achieved through a fight.

We need to meet instead, we need a new protocol defining the set of rules valid for both humans and algorithms. “Code is Law”, said Lawrence Lessig. “Protocol is Trust”, let’s now add this. Quickly.

Riccardo is Beretta’s Digital Business Development Manager. Graduated in Engineering, he has spent most of his professional career in B2B and B2C marketing. Since 2016, he deals with business transformation and digital services. Passionate about digital economy and informational privacy, in 2018 he published “OPAL and Code-Contract: a model of responsible and efficient data ownership for citizens and businesses”. He is a member of the advisory board of “Quota 8000 — Service Innovation Hub” at TEH Ambrosetti. Since 2000 he deals with digital art as an independent researcher. Some of his projects have been acquired from the permanent ArtBase collection of Rhizome.org — NY (2002) and exhibited at the Montreal Biennial of Contemporary Art (2004), as well as at Interface Monthly (London, 2016, by The Trampery and Barbican). In 2015, he released FAC3, one of the first artworks in the world to experiment the use of artificial intelligence. He is married and father of two.

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