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Gaspard Koenig: "Everyone can decide how their data is used"

Published on by Fabrice Donnadieu - updated on

Presented as one of the main promoters of liberal ideas in France, Gaspard Koenig is author, philosophy and creator of the GenerationLibre think tank. His proposals on the use of personal data and the ethics of the web are particularly relevant.

In January 2018, before the entry into force of the General Regulations on Data Protection (GDPR), the GenerationLibre think tank that you founded and that you chair published a report entitled "My data are mine". In particular, you defend the idea that GAFA should reward their users for the exploitation of their data. Economists and intellectuals, like Glen Weyl or Yuval Harari, broadcast the same message. Where is this initiative? A year later, do you have the same ideas on this subject?

This report had received a rather negative reception but got some resonance. Since then we are working on two new reports in the same vein. While the first report was a legal one, the second will focus more on user behavior and the competition market, from the point of view of the implementation of the GDPR. The third will consist of a more econometric study on the price valuation of the data, which is a major subject of controversy. There are studies that follow in the United States and we are in contact with Glen Weyl. I also met people who work on the subject more discreetly like Alain Bensoussan, a lawyer arguing for the ownership of data without making a theory. There was an amendment tabled by Bruno Bonnell, MP in the Marche Republic to make each owner of his data. There is a total rejection of the traditional French legal ecosystem - Council of State, CNIL, Government - but on the other hand there are individualities rebounding on this idea and especially I was struck to receive every week since the publication from this report e-mails from young entrepreneurs who launch small boxes on the monetization of personal data. I did not realize at the time that the Tech is a field of pre-law that will have to clarify what is a factual situation. In the rest of the world it is moving pretty well following the Cambridge Analytica affair, with notably a Financial Times forum pleading for the ownership of data in response to manipulation. Politically, the most important advance came by Gavin Newsom, Governor of California, in his great annual State of the State address speech on February 12th. He explained that citizens' data should be paid for by a kind of digital dividend. It is still vague but the idea is good.

What do you think of Mark Zuckeberg's recent manifesto on Facebook's evolution?

This is the opposite of his previous message published a year ago when he said that the goal of Facebook was to form a global community by giving people the means to self-manage. He now declares that it is not up to Facebook to decide the criteria of freedom of expression but that's the role of the state even if after the massacre of Christchurch in New Zealand, Facebook has suspended the accounts of white extremists. Zuckerberg said to himself "I can't go on recreating the first amendment myself" and decide what to say or not to say. He tries to get out of the idea of ​​corporate social responsibility which was initially nice but places Facebook in the position of legislator. It's unmanageable to deal with the accounts, pools or messages of each by defining oneself the criteria of good and evil. In this last manifesto, he is aware that the regulation can't be national and just like the data, the environment or the nuclear it's a regulation at the world level which will be effective. Zuckerberg doesn't solve the question of data ownership but questions. He is right to pose the problem internationally. We have translated our report and are waiting for the election of the new European Parliament to take it to Brussels because that's where it's played out.

The "Privacy by design" principle of Article 25 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) entitled "Data Protection from Design and Data Protection by Default" stipulates that companies must now integrate data protection personal data from the design of projects related to data processing. A positive step according to you?

Yes, but what I would like is that everyone can decide for themselves contractually regarding the company how their data are used or not. Rather than having something that is generalized to all businesses, it should be treated in a heritage way. When you buy a connected object today, you don't know where the data is going. The legislator tries to put "Privacy by design" in there but when you buy a car, all your GPS coordinates go directly to the manufacturer. I don't want to prohibit car manufacturers from using my GPS data, what I want is that we can negotiate the use of the data as we choose the color or the options of this vehicle. I would like this privacy to be managed individually by the contract and not at the collective level by the right of the person. Both are not incompatible. We mustn't forget that big data and artificial intelligence have a strong added value that benefits everyone, but everyone must be able to manage the use of their data beforehand.

With the taste for organic, the search for ethics, the demand for transparency, does the relationship between company and customer change? Can we really speak of a corporate citizen and a responsible consumer?

I am very wary of this desire to moralize behavior and in this case those of consumers. I still believe in the law. Morality is a matter of individual behavior. I'm very worried about companies that in the name of morality are starting to do some form of censorship. The music platform Spotify had published a charter of ethics stating in particular that songs with discriminatory lyrics wouldn't be published. Spotify has received petitions from feminists demanding the removal of Eminem's songs and equivalent artists. Spotify had to pull out its charter of ethics. In terms of law, anything that isn't forbidden is allowed. This allows drift, diversity, divergence, things a little crazy or shock. When we integrate morality into an company and submit to a fluctuating public opinion, extremely aggressive and now generated by social networks, the field of expression is restricted.

Do these changes create new responsibilities for marketing managers? Considering that they are looking to sell more and more, should their business evolve?

If the state does its job, marketing managers only have to sell their products under the law. Take the example of the environment that everyone wants to save. It's such a complex subject that no company can have a global view of what is good for the environment or really determine its impact. The only ones who can do it are the experts and the states. Companies must resist the temptation to substitute for the laws because they don't have the jurisdiction.

That this morality comes from the people or the companies, the laws are most often not?

The purpose of civilization is to separate law and morality. The law allows individuals to coexist harmoniously and morality is an individual affair. There are many societal laws that bother me. Take the example of Decathlon with his hijab to run. Decathlon is a company that has pushed a lot of corporate social responsibility. With this hijab, Decathlon sells a product perfectly authorized by law but force Decathlon to withdraw its product from the sale. Decathlon is caught in the trap that he himself has helped to create. It is not up to Decathlon to determine whether the hijab is compliant or not to secularism, it is the 1905 law. People should protest against the state to ban the running hijab which I think the ban would be a very bad thing. But people are protesting against Decathlon since companies have been allowed to regulate social behavior. This is infernal because companies must then recreate everything: environmental law, secularism, data law, freedom of expression and under extremely vague criteria. The rule of law makes it possible to pass before a judge, to have a jurisprudence, quite precise criteria. In the case of Decathlon hijab, what are the criteria? Tweets? The likes? It's the emotion of the moment and it's the worst. This leads to the popular lynching. I am for a society where we can discuss together through political representation. If we push to the end this corporate social responsibility that the Pact Act encourages, we ask each company to redo the social contract.

Data is at the heart of the debates and desires in the field of marketing, is it the new wealth?

It has been a wealth for a long time since it is estimated that personal data will be worth 8% of European GDP by 2020. The question I ask is: who is this wealth going to? To the one who aggregates the data, that is, to the companies that process them? Should not this wealth also come back to those who produce it by emitting this data, in other words you and me? Who provides the raw material and why this raw material isn't remunerated? That the aggregator is paid for creating a value-added product is entirely legitimate, but the value chain starts with the individual who produced the data. It's therefore this wealth that must be redistributed to those who produce this value and who are made to work for free. When you use Alexa (Amazon voice wizard) that records all your conversations and provides quite null services, the value you give Alexa is huge because Amazon uses it to hone its natural language processing algorithms. Amazon needs a lot of phenomenal data and records the conversations of all its users. When you talk in your living room with Alexa next door, you work for Amazon for free. This is not normal.

In a recent interview in Le Figaro, you stated that "Social networks are a form of feudalism 2.0" and you left them in July 2018. Why this departure? Are not there ways to step back without leaving the social networks?

Feudalism 2.0 applies to all companies that use data. All value is delivered, and a gratuitous service is withdrawn as the serf delivered all his production to the Lord in exchange for his protection. When we understand that we are so manipulated, that we know that companies hire neuroscientists who know exactly how to excite the reward areas of the brain and keep you in suspense through the like or retweet and that the we become aware of this addiction, so we are disgusted. There are still networks that don't work on this principle and I continue to use Linkedin but no more Twitter or Facebook. I am not against the principle of the social network but I am waiting for alternative social networks. I read that Instagram was planning to remove likes and I would find that excellent. As these companies need data, they keep you in a state of tension so that their business model is sustainable in order to then re-advertise you. It's harmful to society and it's also a scam.

Ethics and virtue are now central topics of the web and social networks. Is not it paradoxical for an affirmed liberal and claimed like you to impose rules in a space where everyone is free to surrender or not?

This is a very common confusion but markets have rules. Regulation is born on the markets. To exchange, you need common rules. This is how we made the first regulations on weights and measures. Regulation is not opposed to exchange and is itself at the heart of the market. For this market to be free, there must be a property right guaranteed by the State and then the regulation that goes around. This is why free trade treaties and European treaties are so complicated.

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