Should we be afraid of the digital transformation? We asked four young leaders from the V4 about the threats and challenges entailed in digitalisation.
Małgorzata Fraser – digital privacy analyst and educator, technology journalist
The majority of us generates data about ourselves during everyday activities, sometimes without even knowing it. Some of this data is very sensitive; our digital devices collect information about our health problems (i.e. via browsing and search history), political views (i.e. via social media interactions – likes, tweets and other forms of digital engagements), religious beliefs, sexual preferences, consumer choices (still broadly and wrongly perceived as something invaluable), and so on.
We voluntarily put wearable pieces on our wrists allowing them to register not just our blood pressure rates but also gather information on how often we exercise and how.
All this data forms a digital footprint, a priceless source of information about not just collective identity (understood as a group of people belonging to a single generation or a social class) but also about our individual selves.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal has shown us that our data can be used as a tool against our freedom.
Information about our customs and beliefs can be used to manipulate our future decisions and impact our lives, directly and indirectly (via algorithmic discrimination). This is a threat to not just to many of the liberties we enjoy, but to democracy understood as a broad system of values allowing us to decide about our political, social and economic future both on individual and collective level.
Botond Felady – lawyer, foreign policy expert and commentator
The control over the mind and body has been in the focus of those holding the political power for the last few centuries. At some points in history, it was done with the help or sometimes distortion of religion. Social norms have been formed and evolved over time even defining our relationship with our own body. It is not only about abortion. Consider that not so long ago left-handed people were forced to learn writing with their right-hand, or think of the albinos and their fate in certain African societies, etc.
Our body has been flagged for a long time: racism, prejudice and all other not-so-basic instincts that were strengthened by structures of power. By those who are governing to the detriment of those being governed.
Digitalisation is just another new way of exercising oppression.
Checks and balances are necessary and shall be introduced into national legislation and international conventions. Technology is there to assure more transparency over governmental digital affairs. Blockchain, open source software are out there to help the citizens.
The most threatening issue, as usual, is the lack of awareness. This time, the development of new technologies is so quick and so far from the average citizens that it is not evident to feel the threat of deeper oppression. It is difficult to raise the political will of the constituency to pressure decision makers in the right direction.
Maria Staszkiewicz – digital economy expert, CEO of the Czech Fintech Association
Technology increases efficiency, while efficiency is not the best premise on which to build a society. At least not the sort of liberal and democratic society we are used to nowadays.
In efficient societies, there would be little room for mistakes, extreme behavior or otherness. With digital tools, elements that do not fit into the system can be much more easily detected, their actions predicted and they themselves either excluded or equalised.
The major weakness of such unitarian organizations is their slow but sure stagnation. Error and mutation is what makes systems – biological, physical or cultural – grow and survive. Communities where social scoring and permanent and omnipresent surveillance are the rule, are doomed to implode.
The challenge ahead of us is to pair human and artificial intelligence. The latter could alleviate natural stupidity and clumsiness of anthropoids, the former could provide the element of surprise and creativity. At least until the moment, when creativity can be programmed.
Dávid Tvrdoň – product manager for online news & technology correspondent at SME.sk
Digital transformation should not be viewed as the end of the world, rather the end of the world as we have known it. It is a necessary step in our evolution.
Of course we, as a society, are dealing with a lot of issues concerning this evolution. Data privacy scandals show not only the unpreparedness of digital platforms but also lack of security measures and oversight. They also show the amount of data that is being gathered about each and every one of us.
Take Google, the company recently announced it wants to help users to live a better life, but in order to understand better, they should trust the company with their data. Of course, the search giant says the data belongs to the users and they can delete it.
Now, remember what was Cambridge Analytica data scandal about? In the beginning, there was the carelessness of Facebook with data access to its users by third parties. At one point, Facebook was told by Cambridge Analytica the data of the users was deleted, in fact, it was not.
Now, it would be easy to ask for governmental oversight and penalties. Who should we trust with the digital power? We see governments misusing such power (take China), on the other hand, we have digital companies with no accountability; no one can vote Mark Zuckerberg out of Facebook (he is the majority shareholder).
There is no easy way out. We have to choose leaders who understand digital transformation, will be accountable to us, and in the end, we should be in charge of our data.
The article was compiled and edited by Gabriela Rogowska.
This questionnaire is part of the #DemocraCE project organised by Visegrad/Insight.