The lost 21st Century for Historical Science, no Big Data because of GDPR and Data Ownership Regulation?

Photo by luis gomes on

News from the future, news from Digitalotopia:

It is the year 2118. At an international conference held in Asilomar, scientists from various disciplines declare the 21st century a lost century from a historical point of view. For their research, the scientists would like to use the big and many data generated at that time to gain valuable insights for medicine, sociology or historical science with their superintelligent computers. In the meantime, humans have succeeded in making artificial superintelligence, freely flowing data streams but nevertheless protected personal rights usable for exclusively meaningful and humane applications. But most of the data from that time was deleted. Only from small data, which could be reconstructed from inscriptions on gravestones, from eBooks or dusty books in national libraries, from documentaries or from Hollywood films, it is possible to derive by means of data-analysis how people lived at that time or what moved the people of that time.

What happened back then? It was the beginning of the digital age. People were insecure as to what would happen to their data. Data was misused several times. The most prominent example in the history books was the Facebook and Cambridge-Analytica scandal. By the way, both companies no longer exist today. Cambridge Analytica filed for bankruptcy shortly after the scandal became known. The social network Facebook, which from today’s point of view is prehistoric, was declared one of the commons infrastructures and it led to the foundation of the worldwide virtual interest network Digitalotopia, a so-called Decentralized Borderless Voluntary Nation (DBVN). Today such social networks belong to people and they are controlled, managed and developed by them through participatory processes. On 25th of May 2018, the updated European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which was created with positive intentions, entered into force with binding effect. Initially it led to multiple insecurity, some confusion and a fierce discourse between two opposing camps. The two camps were led on the one hand by the politician and data protector Jan Philip Albrecht and on the other hand by the author and blogger Sascha Lobo, a proponent of making meaningful use of an abundance of data. And what can you say? Somehow they were both right about their positions. Ultimately, the GDPR became a worldwide model for a data protection culture. First and foremost, Microsoft became the moral leader of the digital economy by adopting the European regulation and making it a global standard for business models. Finally, the European general regulation on data protection became an global general regulation on data protection, which was applied in all countries of the world, even in China.

So May 25th was declared a holiday all over the world, the Dataprotection Day. But nobody really had time to celebrate and sleep in that day. Because a reference ruling issued by the Hamburg Higher Administrative Court had led to the fact that every data processing service was obliged to give users the opportunity once a year to take note of the deletion of all data older than 27 months or to object to the deletion by popping up a so-called Data Delete Banner (DDB). In the DDB one could take note of the deletion of the data with a simple click on the Okay button, so that the irrevocable deletion of the data prescribed by the legislation was carried out immediately. If, however, one wanted to insist on storing the data, a multiple-stage verification procedure had to be carried out. This consisted of a 42-page explanation, which mainly used many technical terms to explain the risks of data retention. The fact that the text was actually read had to be validated with a procedure based on eye-tracking. As a result, reading really took a long time. In addition, a double opt-in and a triple‑factor authentication were used to secure consent for data retention confirmation. Only then could the service provider continue storing older personal data or special categories of personal data. Due to the technical possibilities with Big Data, however, almost everything was considered a special categories of personal data at that time and all data belonged to the users of the services due to a reform of the Data Property Regulation. So people all over the world spent every May 25th of each year all day long clicking hundreds of okay buttons in the Data Delete Banners to be able to use all services the following day again. Mai 26th of each year was, by the way, the day with the highest number of sick days of employees at that time, because they were all completely exhausted from the  previous day by the many clicks and suffered from depressive moods.

Fortunately, on August 7th 2072, a comprehensive reform of the global data protection regulation entered into force. The GDPR was replaced by Human Intelligent and Meaningful Data Usage Regulation (HIMDUR). The clean-up work took decades until all IT systems worldwide were adapted to the new regulation and all people as well as all institutions could profit from the full benefits.

Finally, August 7th was declared a worldwide HIMDUR holiday. On this day, the intelligent use of data for humane and meaningful purposes is celebrated at many festivals around the world. It has become a special tradition on this holiday to send particularly embarrassing selfies of oneself and loved ones to unknown persons in the world. Nobody is concerned about a possible misuse of the selfies, because the implementation of HIMDUR has led to unrestricted trust in cyber security. The use of blockchain technology, artificial superintelligent data guards and personal digital assistants as data-trustees prevent data from being misused by not deleting the data in the night of 25th to 26th May, but instead moving it to a historical Big Data archive. This is where the data is stored with blocking periods, so that in future historians will be able to dig it up again
and use it for data analyses after the protection periods have expired.

So far this is a fictional story!

But perhaps the European Data Protection Regulation could actually become a killer for 21st century insights by historical scientists via data analysis in the 22nd century?

Is it perhaps time to think more deeply about a highly secure Big Data Archive for historical data to preserve the valuable data generated by humans in the 21st century for future generations of scientists and historians? Surely such an archive would have to solve at least a storage space as well as a financing problem in order to become reality. The safety requirements would also pose a major challenge. The access to data from the archive might of course only be possible under observance of the legal blocking and/or protection periods respectivle it might be in open access according to the Data Retentiona & Archival Directives, as they are usual in particular for personal data (i.e. Open Access at the earliest after 10 years after death of a person). Such an archive seems to be a very sensible thing to do. After all, today’s historians only know from letters that emerged after his death, for example, that the philosopher Martin Heidegger had a love affair with his former student and politician Hanna Arendt. But the letters of the people of today and tomorrow, however, are mainly messenger messages, posts, likes or tweets.

And even without taking a look into the future, it is clear that Big Data use cases today require an abundance of data. Because only with an intelligent combination of big data and the analysis of that data, for example in medical diagnostics, can new and useful insights or findings be produced. This is not possible in the case of data frugality in which data is locked away for further use, separated from one another, not collected or even deleted.

According to the position of one camp, the #GDPR is nevertheless the necessary imposition to “preserve self-determination in the age of comprehensive information processing”. Data protection is important, as are informational self-determination and the right to privacy. But do the users of digital services really own the data they generate through their use? Is the ownership perhaps with the “Way of the Future”, the church of the Dataists, who want to pay homage there to a future artificial superintelligence. Or is the ownership rather in the hands of all human beings, and thus pass on to our descendants in particular, so that the data can be analysed by historians in the next century, and would thus be commons. The question of data ownership and data property has therefore not yet been answered clearly and meaningfully. But what exactly this means in the digital age, should be questioned again deeper also from a data philosophical point of view, in order to be able to make legal derivations from it. The #GDPR could certainly get the ball rolling. A possible approach is the concept of “relational data ownership” as explained in the article “Information, data and their good relations”.

What a #GDPR and a new data ownership regulation are not allowed to do in any case is to restrict freedom of information. It must not prevent the humane, meaningful and intelligent storage and usage of data today and in the future.

I’m looking forward to your feedback … here or on Twitter: @SaschaBerger

Kommentar verfassen

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: