Unrestricted data collection – a requisite for the success of Digital economy

Data will not be protected, at all. And,  privacy will undergo fundamental change. I do acknowledge and, in fact, admit that the preceding assertions are very radical given the stance of European Union and the propounders of AI ethics in other countries of the world on the issues of data protection, data collection and data privacy. Regardless, I still maintain and firmly believe that data cannot be made subject to any kind of restriction as far as its collection and usage in our global transition towards digital economy is concerned.

In my opinion, academic and public discourse on data protection and data privacy is a deliberate attempt at misdirection.

Data is the most fundamental part of digital economy. Data collection is not only a prerequisite for the functioning of digital economy but is also essential to ensure its efficiency and efficacy. It entails strengthened and protected digital connectivity at the core of which lies ‘data’. Hence, it is the only way to ensure the success of digital economy. 

It is a fact that most of the data (all of it!) is collected by only a few companies that are the biggest in the world and are primarily based in the US and China. The way competition law is being discussed and shaped today clearly endorses the investment function of data collection and doesn’t take into account the fact that data primarily originates from the consumers in digital economy. In order to take care of the latter, the legislative framework has come up with tools and notions like ‘consent’. The dynamics of ‘consent’ that the consumers need to give before they “agree” on/about anything with regard to their data that is being collected on various platforms is very controversial. People have no idea what they are consenting to. 

They, the consumers, also do not have any other choice because if they choose not to give consent to the applications collecting data under the pretext of improving the products and services, the consumer would not be allowed to download the apps and will be socially excluded. In order to maintain social functionality the consumers with almost zero bargaining power when it comes to negotiating terms and conditions with big tech companies regarding data collection and protection have to give their ‘consent”.

It cannot be doubted that there are various issues and problems with the way data is being collected but, in my opinion, the discussion should be limited to the articulation of the reasoning which is being advanced in order to bring the way and the manner in which the data is collected under the purview of democratic principles. The policy and decision makers of governments of the world do understand the relevance of data in achieving in the fruits of digital economy but, at the same time, are too hesitant in being straightforward while dealing with issues like privacy and proprietorship of consumers over the data they generate. Of course, there are competition law related issues involved, as well.

The problem of articulation and establishing a public narrative in order to “sell” the law or the possible deregulation to the general public conforming to the principles of democratic setup is going to be a problem and the only solution to the same is putting it forth the way it is. Again, this will jeopardise the power equations of different political parties in domestic and international political landscape. It will take some time before the policymakers and the corporate game-changers will correct the public narrative to reflect the things the way they are.

Regardless, data needs to be collected not only for the purposes of predicting human behaviour as far as the the dynamics of marketing in digital economy are concerned but it is also important for the very functioning of the economy. In other words, it can be said that data comes into the picture even before the products and services are conceived and goes a long way into post-sale scenario; entailing  unconventional usage directed towards sustaining and reinforcing the underlying idea of digital economy.

Summing it up, data is the fuel of diesel economy. I think regulating data collection, data protection and privacy might not be a very good idea if countries want to realise the benefits of digital economy.

Paramjeet Singh Berwal

Paramjeet, a lawyer, an invited lecturer, and AI research and policy consultant, is the Director of the Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Technology Law at Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani University, Georgia. He is a Global Panelist with MIT Technology Review. He is frequently invited to deliver talks and presentations on various topics pertaining to AI. His research includes how AI will influence human existence, especially in the context of economy, work, law, society and its institutions, business management, social behaviour and policy making. He may be contacted at berwallaw@gmail.com

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