Frequently asked questions
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Who authored the report?
The lead authors are the two co-Chairs of GIDE: Dennis Snower and Paul Twomey. Other members and friends of the process contributed substantive text to the drafting. The GIDE membership reviewed the draft texts online and added key input through online email lists and regular online group video seminars. While the co-Chairs held the pen, this report is a joint effort.
What is Human-Centered Digital Governance?
It is a model of digital governance devoted to human welfare, but one that is not merely aimed at increasing wealth or material gain, but also one that will improve social solidarity, personal agency and environmental sustainability, even for those who are not Internet users.
Why does the world need a Human-Centered Digital Governance over the current one or any other?
It boils down to this – digital policies are doomed to remain inadequate as long as the consumers of digital services have artificially restricted choices, such as the choice between revealing large amounts of personal data (by agreeing to the terms and conditions of digital services) and being excluded from most economic and social interactions in this increasingly digitalized world. To ensure that consumers do not face artificially restricted choices, it is necessary to give them control over access to, and use of, the data about themselves, individually and collectively.
Who prompted this effort?
- Their efforts have fueled a $515 Billion market in 2022 between the aggregators of personally-linked data and entities seeking to influence users from whom the data was collected, along with many others.
- The problem is that the billions of people whose data is collected are not part of this massive market. Furthermore, users are too often induced into a position where their data can be collected through the offer of “free” services, which is common in the online world. This means that the consumers’ underlying desires are not driving the digital economy. Instead, the digital services are funded by third parties – advertisers, political activists and other influencers – who seek to gain personal data about the consumers and influence their choices. They often do so without the consumers’ knowledge.
So how does this new model work?
Under the proposal, digital citizens can also, with the help of a representatives, set the terms under which their information can be used (according to the law). In return, citizens need to ensure that their data is accurate and verified by trusted third parties.
Entities which want to use someone’s personal data must access it only from a consumer-controlled data repository under agreed upon terms.
- Citizens will have the right of association to enable their interests to be represented by expert representatives.
- The data accessed by the entity will carry a transaction specific digital signature confirming that the data in the hands of the entity has been sourced correctly. Such data holdings will be open to audit.
Entities which infer information about an individual from data which the citizen does not create will have to abide by the duty-of-care rule that commonly applies in the offline world (for instance, between doctors and patients) – the data can only be used in the “best interests” of the data subject.
- We propose a human rights test for the definition of “best interests.”
Governments will create the accountability and legal structures to support the establishment of ‘data commons,’ which will consist of citizen communities with common interests who can pool personal data for the public good (e.g. medical research).
- The recent EU Data Governance Act is an illustration of such a legal structure.
But the current system appears to work, aren’t you trying to fix that which isn’t broken?
- It puts the functioning of our economic market system at risk.
- Fundamental human rights are threatened and the cohesion of our societies are being degraded.
- The current system exposes consumers, businesses and governments to widespread cybersecurity threats.
- It exposes users to a far-ranging manipulation of attention, thought, feeling and behavior.
- It erodes appreciation for objective notions of truth, which undermines our democratic processes.
- It weakens mental health in a number of different ways.
Many of these concerns have been known for years and a number of governments are addressing them; what does Human-Centered Digital Governance bring to the table?
- It introduces the market forces to the relationship between users, digital service providers (those online sites that collect the data) and the third-party influencers (those who purchase and use the data).
It brings real benefits to businesses by ensuring accurate customer information and reducing the likelihood of fraud.
Unleashing market dynamics, driven by consumer choice about personal data use, will fuel innovation and new business creation.
Governments still have a role in protecting their citizens through evolving privacy rights built on a foundation of consumer protection reforms. But government is slow. Rather than having to play catch up after several electoral cycles, governments will be able to have confidence that the negotiations on behalf of citizens within the new market will resolve many of the consumer’s concerns.
By introducing market forces to the relationship between empowered consumers, digital service providers (those online sites that collect the data) and the third-party influencers (those who purchase and use the data), it will help diminish the wack-a-mole problem of having to counter mutating types of data misuse that permeates the current system.
Exactly how does the Human-Centered system propose to alter the relationship between users, digital service providers and the data aggregators and influencers?
By adhering to a concept of “digital citizenship,” which does two things:
- It puts digital consumers in the driver’s seat by giving them ultimate control over their personal data.
- It enables the economic markets to work in an effective and humane way in meeting the consumers’ objectives at minimum cost.
Please elaborate on the role of governments, under this system.
We propose that governments can achieve a more inclusive and active market role for their respective citizens by adopting a tiered definition of personal information. Each tier would be supported by different policy requirements. We lay out our proposal of three specific types of personal data in the Empowering Digital Citizens paper.
Governments can ensure that the long-standing rules that protect the offline economy are replicated in the online economy. This would help protect the vulnerable from manipulation by those holding intimate personal data. Such rules currently govern the practices of a number of industries or professions, like the use of medical information obtained by doctors about their patients.
What is the single biggest difference between the current digital governance system and the “human-centered” one you are proposing?
- They usually do this without the consumers’ knowledge that the bartering of their own personal information is paying for many of the “free” services they are using.
- The interests of the third-party funders are simply not well aligned with the interests of the user, since the funders exploit a user’s personal data to mold the thoughts, feelings and identities around the interests of the influencers.
Our human-centered digital governance system doesn’t merely focus on treating the symptoms of digital governance dysfunction, rather it tackles the underlying disease, specifically the third-party funded digital barter of personal information and the resulting disempowerment of digital consumers.
An increasing number of websites now give the online consumer the option of simply not giving up their personal information, so isn’t the current system self-correcting?
No. Too many times consumers are forced to give up control of their personal information to remain connected to their economic and social world. And that limited choice is too often responsible for a widespread sense of disempowerment, arising from attention capture, manipulation of preferences and misleading information.
Aren’t the Europeans already progressing toward a system whereby digital consumers will have more full control over their personal data?
There’s no doubt that the European Union’s Digital Services Act (DSA) and Data Governance Act (DGA) are steps in the right direction. However, even these do not afford individuals with full transparency and control over who has information on them. Importantly, EU rules don’t establish the long-term benefits of fully integrating consumers as full economic actors in the digital data market. It is essential to fully incorporate the power of market dynamics as well as providing the base support of consumer protection.
Likewise, the policy thrust of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is in alignment with the human-centric principles we are advocating.
What sort of market structure would emerge to implement these proposals?
The Empowering Digital Citizens report foresees a business ecosystem which would likely have a market structure similar to the Internet’s time-proven Domain Name System (DNS) or the credit card processing industry.
The consumer would likely engage a consumer-facing service that manages the details of consumer preferences and negotiates terms on behalf of consumers. This service would pass the registration of the consumers details to a specialist, a secure data holder and processor, which would manage the requests for the consumer’s data from the myriad of entities with whom the consumer interacts according to the terms set by the consumer.
The consumer-facing service would recruit consumers and produce various degrees of specialization and services by negotiating terms for the use of that data. It would ensure that the consumer’s authenticate data is up to date.
The data holder/processor would manage the authorization and digital signature process when a data requester wants the consumer’s personal data. It would ensure that requesting entities have access to data updates.
How much would this cost?
The annual cost to the consumer for these services wouldn’t be much more than the cost of a cup of coffee.
Does this plan require new technologies to be developed?
No. Securing how user data is stored, accessed, and transmitted is easily accomplished with existing technologies and standards.
How will a Human-Centered system improve cybersecurity?
Phishing, spoofing, identity theft and social engineering result in millions of account takeovers and the theft, extortion, or re-purposing of assets. In addition to improved human and technological responses to these attack vectors, the proposals in GIDE’s report can substantially help reduce the threat by providing authenticated personal identity data held securely and accessed by businesses only through a cryptographically specific transaction.
The proposals establish for businesses, a point of confirmation about the authenticated information on an individual. It would be controlled by the individual but authenticated by trusted third parties. This diminishes the risk of an individual trying to lie about their personal data.
An enterprise’s holdings of the individual’s data would have an attached request-specific signature. That means that the stealing of a company’s database of customer records would be far less valuable to criminals than it is today. Unlike today’s system, such records would not be fungible – but specific only to that company and the transaction.
What about human rights, will the Human-Centered Digital Governance model improve the development and continuation of human rights?
European Charter of Fundamental Rights
- The integrity of an individual, who is systemically threatened through the proliferation of digital identities outside the control of the individual.
- The right to liberty, and a number of others are systemically threatened through inadequate protection of privacy, inadequate cybersecurity and economic manipulation, just to name a few.
- The right to equality is at risk because of the opaque use of data through third-party funders.
Themodel positively reinforce the following principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
- Right to privacy
- Freedom of thought and religion
- Freedom of opinion and expression
- Right to assemble
- Right to democracy