Home The World After: The emergence of the Sovereign Digital Citizen

GEAB 146

The monthly bulletin of LEAP (European Laboratory of Political Anticipation) - 15 Jun 2020

The World After: The emergence of the Sovereign Digital Citizen

Digital data is the new black gold; the adage is familiar, but the stakes involved less so. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has achieved a two-year digital transformation within two months, says Satya Nadella, head of Microsoft. [1] In fact, the numbers are dizzying: before the health crisis, the Zoom videoconferencing platform had some 10 million participants in meetings every day. By April, that figure had risen to 300 million.[2] Microsoft, for its part, saw its servers crash due to the explosion of connections on Teams on the first day of the transition to digital education.[3] The phenomenal increase in the number and duration of connections has multiplied the amount of digital data we produce. And with this multiplication comes a question, probably the political question of the 21st century: Who controls this data?

From this question arises, not least, the considerable economic interests from which a handful of quasi-monopolistic – or duopolistic (Google/Facebook) – companies are taking most of the spoils in the name of ‘Winner takes all’. The societal stakes associated with these economic interests have put these Big Tech companies under greater pressure in recent years, particularly since the Cambridge Analytica affair. However, beyond the legitimate ethical issues surrounding the economic model of big digital platforms, which Shoshana Zuboff has theorised as surveillance capitalism,[4] there is the much more central issue of data control and, with it, the digital sovereignty of both states and individuals.  

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