By Muhindo Morgan and Wandera Andrew
The 4th Industrial Revolution “4IR” has shaped our ways of life now for over three decades. The revolution enabled by the advent of the internet has reinvented itself into a better version to fulfil its promises: putting information in the hands of the people; and having the general public participating in the information ecosystem/industry either as content creators or/and consumers.
Notebly, the advancement and evolution of the internet infrastructure has reshaped how data is collected, shared, stored, used and redefined business models. In the 90s, the internet started taking shape through web1 systems that only enabled the sharing of information from one consumer to another, giving birth to the famous Yahoo email and changing an outlook of how people with access to the internet communicated. This disrupted the hustle and bustle of delivering mails through intermediaries and risking them getting misplaced with all the well written love messages. An email system under web1 only facilitated communication between two people in real time. The Internet only enabled sharing of information with no characteristic of interaction.
In the early 2000s, we transitioned to web2 that is a ‘landlord’ to most of the highly interactive social media, e-commerce and fintech platforms enabled by cutting edge technologies like Artificial intelligence and machine learning that consumers literally rely on for anything in their day today life. This evolution came along with high level technologies and methods of data collection, sharing and eventually personal data commodification. Consequently, this meant more innovations around data storage services.
Storage devices and offshore data storage facilities have since technically grown by leaps and bounds making data collection and storage services accessible and cheaper than ever before.
However, the above stages of evolution of the internet posed different legal challenges in their respective rights and have since called for robust regulatory legal frameworks around the world. All and above, the legal issues related to aspects of data collection, processing and storage have and will be key as the internet evolves.
The data protection and privacy legal regimes stem from the challenges posed by data collection, storage, sharing and internet user commodification enabled by sophisticated technologies. This created the necessity to regulate private companies that possess a lot of data accumulated through unchecked collection and storage of personal information in a ‘borderless’ digital world
For the past twenty years, the world has been grappling with data protection and privacy concerns, today almost three quarters of the world at least have legal frameworks that facilitate the legitimate exploitation of personal data.
Despite the strong Data protection and privacy legal frameworks around data protection iced with Ant-trust and Anti-competition laws, bigtechs continue to wield a lot of power and control
billions of data sets leading to power concentration over the worlds’ data in the hands of a few multi corporations that continuously refuse to cede to local jurisdiction for regulatory and compliance purposes.
These companies are very rich to the extent that penalties for non compliance with statutory obligations in regard to data protection do not cause a pitch of pain!
This can be likened to the mediaeval eras characterised by primitive accumulation and concentration of power by a few Lords who became rulers only to exploit, oppress and subject the rest into servitude. These ‘powerLords’ had zips on who speaks what, this was a form of protecting their illicitly accumulated wealth and power.
Today, tech companies are so powerful that they can acquire any startup including its commodified personal data and data subjects. Infact users’ personal information and the users are part of the valuable assets a company in acquisition will alongside other intangible assets front during negotiations. These companies literally know our personal lives more than we do, they employ high technologies to collect information about user behaviour and intimate life in real time- this is the information that no central government may have.
As users/consumers of these services start to be conscious about their privacy and personal spaces, decentralised data systems enabled by Distributed Ledger Technologies (“DLTs”) are a promising silver bullet to our contemporary challenges posed by data commodification and centralization.
One of the famous DLT is Blockchain that is highly demployed amongst cryptocurrency and peer to peer currency platforms like Bitcoin among others.
The beauty with platforms enabled by DLT is that they reverse ‘data power’ concentration from singularly owned centralised databases by decentralising data to the owners, this means, a user has autonomy and control of how and to whom he or she is sharing his or her personal data with, and this is akin to the concept of decentralisation of power in the modern democracies. Whereas, in the modern democracies we still find power concentration, in a DLT based system this is minimal.
Two, DLTs guarantee anonymity and/or at least pseudonymity. In the exploitation of e-commerce, fintech, telemedicine and insurtech services and products, users are guaranteed safe, secure and incorruptible systems. These platforms and techservices/products aligned to privacy by design as a value and philosophy are taking shape to disband the user and data commodification business models. As web3 evolution unavoidably takes shape and gets better, the more data centralisation and data commodification gets absolate.
By Muhindo Morgan and Wandera Andrew Co.Founders – Enset
Tech Policy and Regulation Advisory . Email: firstname.lastname@example.org