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Bits & Bäume 2022

Playlist "Bits & Bäume 2022"

What does data protection actually protect? (EN)

Rainer Rehak

In the digitalization discourse we hear a lot about digital sovereignty, individual control and people's privacy as prime elements ensuring fairness, happiness and freedom of a person. However, modern networked societies are defined by interdependencies and structural factors well beyond the individual. In effect, for thinking about the design and implications of digital technologies, we also have to look on a more systemic level to meaningfully determine, what we should aim for. Interestingly, data protection has long been asking those questions focussing on structural power asymmetries and societal conditions. So in asking, what data protection actually protects, we will learn a lot about society and will find very interesting parallels to social sustainability.

Data protection is by no means about privacy, about one's own bedroom, or about sharing private data on Facebook. It is as much about preserving a democratic social order as it is about preserving individual alternatives for action in the digital age. So we must not talk so much about individuals and their highly subjective privacy desires, but much more about power asymmetries, enforcement power, as well as "strong" and "weak" actors - such as tech monopolies.

Only with this structural view can we counter political smokescreens such as "self-data protection," "data ownership," "individual data sovereignty," or, for example, "algorithm ethics," which are increasingly being offered as solutions to the problem of the dataization of society. We have to deal structurally and also theoretically with the problem of the information power of large organizations (state actors, companies, even NGOs) if we want to live in a digital sustainable society oriented toward fundamental rights and freedoms.

This foundational talk passionately provides the tools and the necessary theoretical basis to actually conduct meaningful data protection debates about sustainable and fair digital societies.