Data Circularity: the New Age of Zero Impact on Privacy

May 18, 2021
Strategy & Innovation
Luca Lisci
|
Daniela de Giorgi

Honestly, how many of you still believe in the usefulness of privacy policies and their related cookie policies?

 

What is certain is that since the European Regulation of the General Data Protection Regulation– GDPR came into force on 25 May 2018, the business world has had to deal with a lot of headaches.

 

The regulation, which govern show companies and other organisations process personal data, has brought with it a wave of bureaucratic procedures from which no entity or professional has been able to avoid.

 

Of course, this is not an overnight event. Quite the opposite. Later in the article, we will explore the origins of the concept of privacy. For now, though, we need only point out that privacy and the protection of personal data are by no means the same thing.

 

If you want to know why we are writing about this topic, answer this question point-blank.

Would you ever trade your personal data for free access to Facebook or Instagram?

 

First of all, be honest with yourself. If you're using at least one of today's e-commerce, social networking, or entertainment platforms, you have already and you're probably aware of it too.

 

But if you want to deny the evidence or live in the last century, then we'll ask you a second question.

 

Would you be willing to pay for the aforementioned platforms in exchange for them not using your personal data for any purpose?

 

We bet most of you are flinching at the mere thought of this. “You have got to be joking?! Paying to use Facebook! I wouldn’t even think about it”. 

Welcome to the information age, where every single bit is data that is generated, living, traveling, and has a monetary value.

Index

    Zero-impact data

    At Bixuit we treat data with the same respect with which we treat other living beings.

    As business consultants, we have the opportunity to interact with a large amount and variety of data. Our mission is to grow our customers' businesses with absolute attention to sustainability, understood as production efficiency and cost reduction.

    The Digital Circular approach to evolution and digital transformation, Bixuit 2021.

    Since data is the foundation of our framework, the issue of the overabundance of this resource and how personal data is processed is very dear to us.

     

    We've long wondered what the future of data might be in our economy, a large-scale economy with infinite possibilities but at the same time so volatile and in need of"zero-impact" solutions.

     

    We found the answer in balance, understood as the ethical use of data at social, environmental, and economic levels. Ensuring that every product can be circular and sustainable.

     

    Before delving deeper into how we got to this idea of data circularity, we want to explore some issues related to privacy and the processing of personal data.

     

    In this article we’ll talk about:

    • When, how and where the concept of privacy was born 
    • What are privacy and the protection of personal data?
    • How the concept of privacy has changed in the world of media 
    • Why we'll never get used to the idea of paying to use the internet 
    • Data, our planet's only unlimited resource 
    • A recipe for defeating data pollution 
    • Bixuit's proposal to create data circularity and revive privacy

    When, how and where the concept of privacy was born 

    “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail; its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storm may enter; the rain may enter; but the King of England cannot enter - all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!” 

    You may know the saying “each man's home is his castle”. It is the principle underlying William Pitt's defense in the controversial case of John Wilkes, before the English Parliament in 1763.

     

    In a debate over the protection of privacy in Wilkes' home, Charles Pratt, Earl Camden – at the timePitt's confidant and supporter – canceled his request for a warrant to enter John Wilkes' house and seize documents.

     

    It is necessary to take a step forward from this point in history and travel to the United States to find the first documents on the right to privacy. To be precise in Boston towards the end of the 19th century.

    Writing for the first time about the right to privacy were two lawyers, Warren and Brandeis, who published their paper in the Harvard Law Review.

    The authors of The Right to Privacy, 1980.

     

    At the time, the most advanced technology in terms of media was photography, and the most widely used means of communication was print.

     

    Newspapers began publishing photos of high society ladies dressed in their glamorous skirts and hats attending social events – it's impossible not to think of today's influencers.In this case, however, the immortalised ladies were not looking for fame, quite the contrary.

    As you may have already guessed, the fact that the press could disseminate people's images through the newspapers, led for the first time to discussions on the right to privacy because attached to this practice was what today we would refer to as the large-scale processing and dissemination of data.

     

    The episode described above is also linked to the first-hand experience of one of the two young lawyers, who filed a lawsuit against the local newspaper, the Evening Gazette, which specialised in gossip. The newspaper had published rumours about his wife's marital life. Hence the first definition of privacy, based on the "right to be left alone" (the right to be let alone). 

     

    And so, we come immediately to our first point of consideration. Data is not a prerogative of technology, man has always produced personal data and tried to protect it. From cavemen to the Sumerian civilisations, up to ancient Rome to today, passing through every era and civilisation along the way, the human being has always used his symbols to communicate and leave a mark, a testimony. 

     

    Back to Boston, to the carriages, in the late 1800s. So, what did Warren and Brandeis write about in this fateful article? They argued that every person has the right to privacy and respect for their private life. It is a space that is protected from the intrusion of others, whether they are third parties or the State.

     

    Privacy, therefore, is a concept related to confidentiality. Some limits can only be exceeded with the explicit consent of the person.

    Would you ever dream of entering your neighbour's home without their permission?

     

    What are privacy and the protection of personal data?

    The interconnected but fundamentally different concepts of privacy and the protection of personal data have had a different path to development and adoption in the United States as compared to the Old Continent.

     

    Referring to the US experience, which preceded our own, the first legal definition of privacy was based on the "right to be left alone".

     

    As we mentioned already, privacy refers to the right to the confidentiality of personal information and one's life, to “be left alone”. It comes into use when we protect our intimate sphere to prevent information about us from being disclosed without our explicit consent.

    Unlike privacy, the protection of personal data - according to the European concept - is a system of treatment of the same, which directly or indirectly identifies the person.In addition to the principle of confidentiality, that of the availability and integrity of personal data come into play.

     

    Comparing the legislative content of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and Europe's most advanced personal data processing regulatory system, General Data ProtectionRegulation (GDPR), a significant difference emerges.

     

    While the EU Regulation on the Protection of Personal Data focuses on the physical person who can exercise a right of freedom regardless of his role on the market, theCalifornia Consumer Privacy Act focuses on the individual and the data concerning him as a consumer.

     

    So, if in Europe the idea isto defend against the intrusion of the state, in the US the idea is to defend oneself from the intrusion of private individuals - newspapers, companies, other people.

    So what's the gist?

     

    The bottom line is that they are different concepts, coming from two different cultures.

     

    While privacy was built as a tool to remove unwanted gaze, the protection of personal data focuses on the person in reference to their data because this data constitutes their identity.

    How the concept of privacy in the media world has changed

    At a certain point, the situation becomes even more intricate. As you know, the digital revolution has a complex relationship with privacy.

    With the spread of new technologies and the advent of the digital society, two other guarantees have been introduced to the European Regulation 2016/679 to protect the security of the processing: the availability and integrity of the subject's data.These constitute an evolution of privacy understood as the right to privacy.

     

    The fact is, however, thatGDPR does not intervene in everything. It leaves some things to national legislators. For example, the Privacy Code that we have in Italy is revised by intervening in those spaces that the European legislator wanted to defer to individual states (such as the processing of sensitive data: genetic data, data on health, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, political opinions, etc.).

    We have moved from a concept of privacy linked to the physical ownership of our home, of our hearth, of an intimate space, to a concept that, as we have seen, is closely linked to the data we produce through our connected devices, be they smartphones, computers, voice assistants or connected cars to name a few.

     

    The point is that in this passage we have missed something; we continue to refer to the concept of privacy as something that belongs to us by right because it is part of our personal sphere and we created it.

     

    Today we inherit this illusion from the concept of physical property, but perhaps privacy in the media world is a useless concept.

    Why do we persist in transposing established principles of the physical world into a dimension in which they have no validity? Just think of the variety of the nature of the data (personal, statistical, qualitative, behavioural, etc.).

    Why we'll never get used to the idea of paying to use the internet

    Those who say "I would not pay to use Facebook even if it meant the guarantee that they would not use my personal data", are the same who a minute earlier said they were concerned about the use that the social network makes of their data.

     

    But it must be said that after decades of accessing the internet for free, the idea of paying for it seems absurd. An enormous abuse of freedom of expression, friction that cannot be overcome with a light heart.

     

    And do you know why?

     

    Because today network interruptions are synonymous with poverty. The Internet is now a commodity that is the socio-economic foundation of our society, without which, we're going nowhere.

     

    Today, information, whether true or false, passes through the internet. If tomorrow a friction were imposed on our connection to the real system constituted by this medium, we would experience it as an act of violence, an impediment to being part of the social fabric. As social animals, we discard this hypothesis a priori.

     

    At this point, however, a new consideration takes over, according to which we cannot believe that the aforementioned right "to be alone" is still valid as a concept.Precisely because today the dimension in which we live is immersive and participatory.

     

    This requires us to look through a different lens, where the concept of privacy is not based on a"physical perimeter " but, for example, on the concept of data pollution.

     

    What do we mean by data pollution?

     

    Let's examine it together.

    Data, our planet's only unlimited resource

    The total amount of data created, captured, copied, and consumed worldwide is expected to increase rapidly, reaching 74 Zettabytes in 2021. Yup, that's a 21-zero figure.

     

    Even before the pandemic, it was a volume destined to progressively increase due to the information generated by embedded systems (microprocessor computing systems, designed for a specific use and integrated into the systems they control, capable of managing all or part of their functionalities).

     

    Let's assume that this growth has accelerated considering the unforeseen events of the last year, which have contributed to an even more massive use of the internet and therefore a never-increasing generation of data.

    Volume of data/information created, captured, copied, and consumed worldwide from 2010 to 2024, Statista 2021.

    Data is the only valuable resource on the planet that, instead of suffering from scarcity, suffers from unlimited growth.

     

    Could you say the same about water? Of the forests? Of oil?

     

    Digital pollution is a topic of increasing interest. It is no secret that if underestimated, the environmental implications of digital products and services, particularly driven by algorithms and artificial intelligence, could increase the carbon footprint of technology on our planet.

     

    Even though the Paris Agreement effectively enshrines the commitment of many countries to end their dependence on fossil fuels by 2050, we are still a long way off target.In fact, fossil fuels still provide 84% of the world's energy, with the tech sector estimated to increase energy demand more and more.

     

    To conclude, here are some statistics collected by Seed Scientific, which give us a dimension of the growth of data in the world in the coming years:

    • By 2025, the amount of data generated each day will reach 463 Exabytes globally
    • Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon store at least 1.2,000 Petabytes of information
    • The world spends approximately $1 million per minute on internet services
    • In 2025, there will be 75 billion IoT devices in the world
    • In 2030, 9 out of 10people will be digitally active as early as the age of six.

     

    You're astounded by this unstoppable growth, too, aren't you? Could such a thing ever be sustainable? 

    A recipe for defeating data pollution

    Every bit of data generated, pollutes. To address data pollution it will therefore be necessary to redesign data so that we can actually talk about data sustainability, data efficiency and data circularity.

     

    The goal here must be to work towards efficiency, eliminating the "noise" and redesigning the concept of data ownership until it becomes balanced.

     

    As we know, when it comes to digital service infrastructures, the difficulty of transposing, measuring and reducing their carbon footprint is their very invisibility and complexity. For this reason, experts including designers, creatives, researchers, scientists and engineers are creating tools for users to address the problems of awareness and transparency.

     

    We too are closely following the debate that pushes towards so-called digital sobriety, i.e. the approach to digitization, which focuses on the acquisition and development of tools that require minimal energy, need to be replaced less often and can be disassembled and reintroduced into the material flow for new products. The same could happen with a more conscientious use of data.

     

    But what are the questions we should be asking ourselves in this light?

     

    We should start wondering if growth as an end in itself is a sustainable practice and probably the answer we would give is "no, not anymore".

     

    We should ask ourselves if it is true that to grow, a business must infinitely expand its production of data.Or if, on the contrary, there is sustainable growth according to which the true business value, that is something that makes it anti-fragile, lies in the right balance of the data sustainability.

     

    Perhaps only by seeing the right quality, quantity and managerial direction of the data, while avoiding scarcity on the one hand and superabundance on the other, could we build a growth profile that is valid for today and for years to come.

     

    The profile of sustainable growth, of the data generated with zero impact.

    Bixuit's proposal to create data circularity and revive privacy

    What are the possible ways to realise data circularity? To not generate unnecessary waste?

     

    At Bixuit, Data Thinking is our approach to work. Combining creativity and attention to the user and his typical needs of design thinking, with technical analysis, experimentation and iteration borrowed from the scientific world of data science.

     

    Working for sustainable growth by improving productivity and reducing costs is our mission, and the data thinking framework is the tool that makes it possible to explore, design, develop and validate business solutions.

    How we design, Bixuit 2021.

    We care so much about the subject of data and the centrality of the user, that perhaps for this very reason we have sought a solution to data pollution, imagining a new life for data and everything that concerns it, such as privacy.

     

    So far we have observed how data today must be treated as a material asset, a "product",which by nature becomes immediately monetizable and has as a consequence an environmental impact.

     

    Data, as we have seen, is a potentially infinite resource and concerns the whole of society as we are all connected, generators and users of other people's data.

     

    At this point, it becomes quite clear that when it comes to environmental impact, the balance we are aiming for is a social one, and not a private one.

    Why?

     

    Because social impact has a much broader scope, and socio-economic consequences count much more. And so their violation can no longer be considered at a specific level but must be assessed on an overall level.

     

    We ask you the same question from a few paragraphs ago.

    Do you really still believe in the usefulness of privacy policies and their related cookie policies?

     

    Today, there are companies that make trillions of dollars by standardising data exploitation. This same marketed data translates into products that we are ready to buy without often realising that the product is us.

     

    That's scary to think about, isn't it?

     

    At Bixuit therefore, when reasoning in terms of environmental impact we treat data like other materials. First of all, we ask ourselves if we really need to create data for every action. We ask ourselves why there aren't already IT and digital structures in place that are capable of regulating  data to the point of creating it only if fundamental. Only if certified as zero impact data.

     

    Yeah, but how?

     

    Since it is not a private dimension but a collective one, and the private sector, in any case, does not have the desire or sometimes intellectual, psychological and cultural autonomy to address the issue (without detracting from the reader),the task must probably be delegated to those entities to which the private citizen pays taxes.

     

    The issue should be addressed at a regulatory and systemic level to ensure the sustainability of the quality of life and the rebirth of privacy, this time as an added value.

    In this respect, the body responsible should verify the plumbing" of the data being transported, to ensure no data is being wasted.

     

    One solution could be to certify the platforms for their data sustainability, or to create passports that attest to their sustainability. And so, at the same time preventing those platforms from operating below a certain default and shared threshold.

     

    Leading the circularity of data, should be a management body at a political level, capable of shifting culture, citizens and society, introducing and raising awareness around zero impact data.

     

    What would it change?

     

    It would be in the interest of each platform to fall within the sustainability parameters and equip itself with this certification to defeat data pollution and ensure access, stability and protection of citizens' personal data.

     

    Not just that, it would also regularise the market, leading to greater data integration and scenario prediction.

     

    If you were wondering what the consequence o fall this could be on the accuracy and prediction capabilities of algorithms, there is nothing pointing us toward believing that these would be less efficient. On the contrary, a systemic and transparent management could guarantee an even higher rate of reliability of the algorithms.

    In conclusion

    The concept of privacy as it is understood today is inadequate since we refer to outdated paradigms of physical ownership that perhaps were fine in the pre digital era.

     

    When it comes to privacy and the processing of personal data, we are all a little worried and we have reason to be because to date there is no systemic and global legislation in this regard. Each country, although following regulated guidelines, implements the processing of personal and sensitive data in ways that are ever so slightly different from each other.

     

    What is needed to revive from the ashes the concepts of confidentiality and protection of personal data, understood as the availability and integrity of the subject's data, is a sustainable vision in which the data is created only if it is truly useful.

     

    Bixuit's position is that it is necessary to manage the issue at a political level, raising awareness among citizens and businesses on the issue of data pollution and viable solutions such as, for example, those of certifying platforms to operate transparently and to generate zero impact data.

    Authors

    Luca Lisci
    Head of Design, CXO, Author, Angel Investor

    Develops his career across Design and Marketing. In 25+ years he founded its endeavors on the vibrant mix of humanities and technology exploited by the Internet revolution. He's a designer, a thinker and a maker working to make good things happen, day by day.

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    Daniela de Giorgi
    Communication Strategist

    Raised in the digital space, but with a strong humanistic bent. She combines a background as a digital marketer and a soul as a content designer.

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