The digital gold rush

© Victoray/Fotolia

The immense volume of data worldwide is growing relentlessly. Businesses can use this digital raw material to do good and make money at the same time. Data have long been seen as the oil of the 21st century. But do people still have any control over whether they want to be transparent and to what degree?

The world is controlled by data. Even cautious forecasts are predicting that by 2020 around 6.5 billion people and some 20 billion objects will be connected to one another. The global data volume will have increased at least tenfold by then. Data companies such as Google and Facebook are already among the world’s most important companies.

Data and its sensible use are driving forces behind innovative products. They enable the creation of tailored solutions for the individual. They can also help to tackle problems that concern society as a whole. Whether it’s in healthcare, climate research, traffic guidance or the “smart” management of cities, when it comes to data usage, the economic added value is often accompanied by social added value.

Digital opportunities – trust is the key

Taking advantage of digital opportunities requires one basic thing: trust. If people don’t trust that their data will be used appropriately, they won’t be willing to disclose anything about themselves. This is because their data often provide insights into their habits, attributes and even their secrets. People’s trust in the proper use of their data has been damaged in the past. The revelations regarding the surveillance practices of German and foreign intelligence services have certainly contributed to this.  

It is in the companies’ own interests to restore this trust. But it’s also the state’s responsibility to foster this trust through data protection legislation. Admittedly, data protection regulations have never been the easiest laws to understand. And political value decisions in data protection law are no less complicated these days. Some commentators consider the whole concept of data protection to be outdated, while others feel it is needed now more than ever. But one thing is sure: there is less and less consensus within society over what is private and therefore worthy of protection, and over what is public and of a less sensitive nature. This gap in values has been widening since the advent of Web 2.0.  

Committed to transparency and sovereignty

When it comes to questions of data policy, German industry espouses a clear guiding principle centred around transparency and sovereignty. Transparency forms the basis for consumer sovereignty. Consumers must know what data is being collected about them, for what purpose and whether it will be passed on to others. Only informed consumers make for responsible consumers capable of making independent decisions. And they should make their decisions independently: decisions over who knows what and when third parties should know it, should lie in the hands of the individual.

If implemented correctly, data protection and digital opportunities don’t need to be opposing ideas. They are, in fact, mutually dependent. A well-balanced legal framework for data processing in Europe can meet both objectives: more trust through strong protection for personal data and more innovation through workable regulations for new business models. The BDI is committed to furthering these objectives.