On 25 May 2018 the world is finally catching up with the reality of the web it has created. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come into force in the EU and is an attempt to right some of the wrongs that have been taking place over the last few decades. It’s staggering that this has taken so long to put into place, yet at the same time heartening that finally some proper legislation has been set.
It has been over 20 years since the last law was created - the 1995 data protection derivative, which UK law, for one, is based on. The new legislation is a huge step and the world is paying attention, perhaps largely due to Facebook’s recent bad press. CNBC reported that “Facebook is scrambling to regain trust of its users after the Cambridge Analytica scandal”.
I’ve already written about the perils of data leaks and how the gaming industry has the opportunity to set the industry standard, but let’s take a look at Facebook more closely. After all they own the world’s most popular messaging apps, and social networks, and are now beginning to dominate the world of Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality, with the purchase of Oculus VR. They’ve repeatedly been allowed to annihilate the competition and make acquisitions dishonestly. The regulators have let Facebook get away with far too much for far too long, and hopefully the GDPR will be a step in the right direction to putting them in check. While Zuckerberg himself refuses to play ball with UK legislators and will send executives in his place to testify in front of UK parliament, the company’s fines and issues continue to burgeon. Europe seems to be leading the charge and its citizens seem to be caring more and more about keeping tabs on Facebook and protecting their data.
My hope for the future is that we put these laws into place far more quickly. The need for this law has been evident for over 15 years, and people have been shouting about data abuse and the dodgy ethics of Facebook for at least the last 10 years. So businesses, public bodies and governments alike all need to be far more agile. If we don’t look lively then we’re in danger of allowing other scandals like the Google Books experiment, and Facebook’s continuous data embarrassment. We need to have proactive rather than reactive legislation, and its not as if we can’t look down the line and see what’s coming.
One piece of the puzzle that I believe in wholeheartedly is Tristan Harris’ idea that we should be building quality relationships and redesigning the value of the networks that we use. This is much in the same way that airline carriers and car companies are trying to serve their customers for life, rather than just harvesting data and being obsessed with minutes spent on the page.
And Harris isn’t the only one who thinks the way we’re working is frankly messed up; Sherry Turkle understands and speaks about how technology just isn’t working for us and can actually make us unhappy. I often wonder why we have designed user experiences to keep people scrolling and scrolling on endless content, rather than giving them tools to perform mundane tasks more quickly, or actually minimising screen time. We can design technology how we want - and we are starting to realise that our silence over data has to stop. Perhaps the issue is that we’ve made data far too valuable - so let’s turn that around. Let’s start to use technology to give people real value and put us back at the centre.
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