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Browser cookies disagree: A new way of data protection after data regulation failure in EU

6 min reading

As the European union general data protection regulation failed its unclear what the next step would be.


The endless cookie settings that pop up for every website seem like following the rules of an internet joke that tries not to change. This is very annoying. And it looks a bit like revenge from the regulatory authorities on the side of the data markets, who gave the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) a bad reputation, and it seems political bureaucrats are again clumsily interfering in what should be smooth sailing. innovation course.

The reality, however, is that the GDPR's proposed data protection vision will kick off an era of innovation far more exciting than today's dirty technology. However, as it is now, he did not succeed. An infrastructure approach with the right incentives is needed. Let me explain.

Detailed metadata collected behind the scenes

As many of us already know, laptops, cell phones and any device with a "smart" prefix generates a constant amount of data and metadata. So much so that the concept of a sovereign solution to your personal data hardly makes sense: If you click "No" to cookies on a website, the tracker is still sent discreetly via email. Delete Facebook and your mom will mark your face with your full name on old birthday photos, etc.

What's different today (and why CCTV is actually a terrible surveillance display) is that even if you have the skills and knowledge to ensure your privacy, the entire mass metadata collection environment will still cost you. It's not about your data, which is often encrypted, but about how collective metadata lows can still uncover at a good level and present you as a targeted person - as a potential customer or potential suspect if your behavior patterns are noticed.

But no matter what, everyone wants privacy. Even governments, corporations, and especially the military and national security agencies. But they want solitude for themselves, not for others. And that poses a bit of a conundrum: How can national security agencies protect foreign authorities from spying on their populations while they build backdoors to drive them crazy?

Governments and companies have no incentive to provide confidentiality

In language this reader is very familiar with: there is a demand, but to put it mildly, a problem with incentives. As an example of how big problem incentives are right now, the EY report estimates the UK health data market alone at $11 billion.

While such reports are highly speculative about the true value of the data, they create an unbearable fear of omission, or FOMO, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy as everyone struggles for the promised profits. This means that while everyone from individuals to governments and big tech companies wants to ensure confidentiality, there isn't enough incentive to do so. FOMO and the temptation to sneak through the back door to make a secure system a little less secure is too great. Governments want to know what their population (and others are talking about), companies want to know what their customers think, employers want to know what their employees are doing, and parents and teachers want to know what children are doing.

There are useful concepts from the early history of scientific and technological research that might help explain this mess. This is accessibility theory. Theory analyzes the use of an object by its specific environment, system, and the things it offers people – the kinds of things that become possible, desirable, comfortable, and attractive as a result of the object or system. Our current environment offers, to say the least, an irresistible temptation to keep tabs on everyone from pet owners and parents to governments.

In an excellent book, software engineer Ellen Ullman describes the programming of some office network software. This vividly illustrates the horror when, after installing the system, the boss excitedly discovers that it can also be used to track the keystrokes of his secretary, who has worked for him for more than a decade. There used to be trust and a good working relationship. With this new software, new powers inadvertently turn bosses into swindlers who peek at the most detailed daily work rhythms in their environment, click frequency and pauses between keystrokes. This pointless observation, though more through algorithms than humans, is now generally regarded as an innovation.

Also read: This imprisoned Russian artist sells NFT to support his family and fellow prisoners

Confidentiality as a material and infrastructure fact

Where is this taking us? That we cannot simply restore privacy in this surveillance environment. Your devices, your friends' habits, and your family's activities stay connected and identify you. And the metadata will expire independently. Instead, privacy should be protected by default. And we know that it's not just done in good faith on the part of governments or tech companies because they don't have the incentive to do so.

GDPR and its immediate consequences have failed. Confidentiality should not just be a right that we desperately try to enforce every time we visit a website, or that most of us can only dream of doing through expensive legal processes. No, it has to be a material and infrastructure fact. This infrastructure must be decentralized and global in nature so as not to fall into certain national or commercial interests. In addition, it should provide the right incentives to reward those who manage and maintain the infrastructure so that privacy protection becomes profitable and attractive while breaching becomes impossible.

Finally, I would like to point out an aspect of secrecy that is greatly underestimated, namely its positive innovation potential. Confidentiality is usually understood as a protective measure. But if data protection were just a fact, data-driven innovation would suddenly make a lot more sense to people. This will enable a broader commitment to shaping the future of all things data-driven, including machine learning and AI. But more on that next time.


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