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Challenging Data Exploitation

We want to see a world where we are in control of information about us. Our data reveals a lot of information about us. From our data, intelligence is gleaned about us - our habits, our health and finances, our desires and hopes - some of which may be inaccurate. Yet our technologies are now designed to generate and disclose vast amounts of data, and beyond our control. Privacy International is fighting so that our technologies work for us and do not betray us.

Increasingly everything we do generates data, whether we are in possession of a device or not. Our devices, networks, and homes generate data. Our transport systems, cars, payment systems, and cities also generate data through us and about us. With all this data, we may be able to make the world a fairer, better, cleaner, more sustainable and safe place. The opposite may also apply.

Our devices and infrastructure are being designed for data exploitation. Increasingly it is beyond the ability of individuals themselves to control the ways in which data about their lives is shared and processed.

As a result, industry and government are amassing our data. They aspire for a data-driven world that frees them to grab our data, to look for patterns and similarities, to generate intelligence, and make decisions about us and the shape of our futures. These invisible hands of control are unaccountable.

We are not ready for the future that 
is already being built. Our laws are not yet able to address these risks. Our technologies are insecure and leak data. In turn, we are not secure.

Revelations about intelligence agencies and industries give us snapshots of the future. They start with excessive data generation and collection. Then the data feeds their systems used to identify us and our behaviours and then to classify us. These classifications become impossible to escape – they even become more trusted than actual reality. Do you think you are worthy of credit? The system disagrees. You claim you are not a terrorist? The computer says otherwise.

These systems are always protected with secrecy. That secrecy makes it impossible for us to know where we stand or to seek redress to free ourselves. Will your actions make the system think you are a terrorist? Can the system, like all before them, be gamed by the powerful or technologically savvy?

In a democratic society, it is essential we continue to be able to watch the watchers. We must also maintain control of the controllers. Otherwise, a future of data exploitation will chill autonomy and diminish dignity. At Privacy International, we are fighting to ensure that the future is safe for freedom.

Privacy International is investigating how our data is generated and exploited, engaging the public through awareness-raising campaigns, and exploring the necessary legal and technological frameworks to protect against data exploitation.