Operationalizing digital self-determination

Paper by Stefaan G. Verhulst: “A proliferation of data-generating devices, sensors, and applications has led to unprecedented amounts of digital data. We live in an era of datafication, one in which life is increasingly quantified and transformed into intelligence for private or public benefit. When used responsibly, this offers new opportunities for public good. The potential of data is evident in the possibilities offered by open data and data collaboratives—both instances of how wider access to data can lead to positive and often dramatic social transformation. However, three key forms of asymmetry currently limit this potential, especially for already vulnerable and marginalized groups: data asymmetries, information asymmetries, and agency asymmetries. These asymmetries limit human potential, both in a practical and psychological sense, leading to feelings of disempowerment and eroding public trust in technology. Existing methods to limit asymmetries (such as open data or consent) as well as some alternatives under consideration (data ownership, collective ownership, personal information management systems) have limitations to adequately address the challenges at hand. A new principle and practice of digital self-determination (DSD) is therefore required. The study and practice of DSD remain in its infancy. The characteristics we have outlined here are only exploratory, and much work remains to be done so as to better understand what works and what does not. We suggest the need for a new research framework or agenda to explore DSD and how it can address the asymmetries, imbalances, and inequalities—both in data and society more generally—that are emerging as key public policy challenges of our era…(More)”.