Decode is a major new EU Horizon 2020 project that wants to put control of data back into individuals’ hands.
Led by the technology and innovation office in Barcelona, and delivered by a consortium of 14 European partners including Nesta, Decode is a three-year project to develop new tools and systems to enable people to consciously share their data in a more independent, secure and trusted way.
Francesca Bria, coordinator of Decode, explained how society’s attitude towards personal data collection and use must change, speaking at the launch of a project report from Nesta on 18 September.
“Today, citizens have little say in how their data is gathered or used. Data is accumulated in the hands of few online platforms that profit from its value, helping them to secure control over the digital economy.
“Immense power has been shifted to just one sector of society as a result. We need a new social pact on data, to make the most out of data for the public good, while guaranteeing privacy and information self-determination for citizens.”
More informed data-sharing
A more positive and mutually beneficial vision of the future is laid out in the Decode report, with six imagined personas from the year 2035 demonstrating new tools that give them control over their own personal information.
For example, Florence shares information about her chronic health condition with researchers of her choice within an opt-in data commons. Sarah, an entrepreneur with strong ethics, minimises the amount of consumer data she gathers for business analysis.
‘Centralisation and monopolisation of personal data enables the internet economy to function, but it does so in a way that produces inefficiencies and inequities for individuals, society and businesses, not to mention ethical concerns’
Decode believes that we should flip the current model of a select few organisations controlling our personal data, to individuals being aware of their rights and choosing with whom to share their data very carefully.
Ethical concerns about data monopolies
In the report created by Nesta, the positive impact of the internet on society is by no means discounted, but there are valid concerns raised.
“Centralisation and monopolisation of personal data enables the internet economy to function, but it does so in a way that produces inefficiencies and inequities for individuals, society and businesses, not to mention ethical concerns. In a world of ubiquitous connected devices, wearables and lives lived online, our data can paint incredibly accurate pictures of our identities.”
As is the case across the board, GDPR will create huge change in the personal data economy, with more and more average citizens becoming aware of the value their data holds.
This will also change how companies deal with and collect data, according to the report.
“The cost of holding personal data will become more expensive as regulations become more onerous. And the price of getting it wrong could disincentivise companies from holding personal data.”
Decode also highlighted four new pilot schemes that are testing out some of the tools to create a more democratic digital economy.
1. BCNow Platform
In conjunction with Barcelona City Council’s digital democracy platform Decidim, Decode will aggregate citizen-generated data and then display it on the BCNow dashboard. Citizens will be given the option to control how their information is used and informs policy proposals. Decode’s anonymous verification capabilities will minimise the sharing of sensitive, personally identifiable data with the council.
2. Citizen Sense internet of things
Data from neighbourhood noise sensors given to Barcelona residents will be gathered and analysed by Decode to help citizens influence city-level decisions.
Decode will help Amsterdam City Council and the FairBnB platform to address the need for a more sustainable solution to short-let holiday homes. It will provide statistics and regulatory information so that the community can govern the platform without compromising participants’ privacy.
4. Gebiedonline (Neighbourhood Online)
Amsterdam City Council aims to spread this cooperative digital platform to other neighbourhoods in the city and leverage the platform to increase people’s involvement with policy decision-making. With Decode’s controls, residents can decide what information they share.
You can read the full report here.
Barcelona, Spain, where the Decode report was launched. Image: Radu Bercan/Shutterstock