Digital Human Rights

Susanne Forchheimer Posted by Susanne Forchheimer, Research Assistant, Institute for the Future.

Susanne is an engineer who joined school of the arts to massage her creative mind and broaden her vision on the connections between technology and art.


Digital Human Rights

Image Source: Pexels

In society today we talk strongly and passionately about our human rights. We fight, demonstrate and make our voices heard loudly to demand that laws are created and followed to allow us to exercise our human rights. Online, instead we talk about digital rights. There is no “human” in digital. I strongly feel there is a disconnect between how we look at digital rights and human rights and believe we need to incorporate the human aspect in our digital rights to fully acknowledge that digital rights these days is way past including our right to access, use, create, and publish digital media on the internet. We need to admit that our online presence is valuable and should be protected in the same ways that we demand our human rights offline.

Protecting our digital privacy and integrity extends far beyond our presence on social networks (just ask Edward Snowden) but for the simplicity of this modest blog post I have chosen to focus on the impact of social media on our digital human rights.

“Facebook is a business. It exists to take your online activity and turn it into revenue. Facebook will always be free. But there is a cost. You’re paying by being exposed to advertising and allowing limited disclosure of your online activity.” (source: http://safeandsavvy.f-secure.com/2010/08/05/protect-yourself-facebook/)

This statement may seem obvious but what most people don’t realize is that the “limited disclosure” of your online activity really means that Facebook is not only making it possible for companies to customize advertisement on your Facebook page, which at least is visible to you, but they are also selling and trading your data to companies, organizations and governments where in most cases you have no idea what your data is being used for.

Anytime you use Facebook to sign into other applications such as dating services, online games, email etc. they are taking advantage of information stored on your Facebook profile. Some of these applications are built around your Facebook information (i.e. Tinder) and doesn’t give you access to their services unless you give them access to your Facebook page. Opting out of using Facebook for login on to other applications is getting harder and harder to do. This creates an even bigger problem. Before, you could choose not to use a service like Facebook but now it’s becoming really hard not to have an account since this is vital for the use of other services.

I will admit that the integration of applications are often beneficial to you since you don’t have to create separate profiles for each and every one of them but having a single online profile that is connected to most of your applications, including a lot of private and sensitive information about yourself, makes you vulnerable.

Back in 2014 Dutch student Shawn Buckles auctioned all his personal data to the highest bidder and earned a grand total of €350 (£288) (http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2014-04/15/shawn-buckles-is-worth-350-euros). It’s obvious that our personal data is worth something but exactly how much is harder to calculate. If you could choose to opt out of Facebook selling your data, for example by paying a monthly cost for their services, how much would this memberships then cost? And would you be willing to pay this price?

To answer this question we have to first figure out how much our personal data is actually worth. This question is quite hard to answer. You would think that you could look at Facebook’s total revenue from selling personal data but that assumes that each individual’s data is equally valuable. Also data is only really valuable when combined with data from thousands or even millions of people, thus the total value is not equal to the sum of its parts. This makes it almost impossible to calculate the value of one person’s data. The difficulty of putting a price and value on our individual data has made it possible for companies and governments to use data very freely in social experiments, research, crime investigations etc. things that could potentially violate privacy and integrity of the person whom which the data belongs to.

By signing the terms and conditions on Facebook you’re giving them permission to use your data very freely. I believe that this is truly where the biggest problem lays. Understanding the terms and conditions of which you sign up for a social network is almost impossible, yet it’s up to the company to write them up basically however they want. They express them in a way that makes it sound like they are doing this all for you, their user, when in fact they are a profit organization simply trying to make money. I argue that we need to have a lot more transparency within these organizations so that people really understand what they sign up for.

There has to be a way for people to be able to enjoy the digital revolution without jeopardizing their privacy and understanding the value of their online presence. It’s time to humanize our digital rights.