HomeInsightsEuropean Data Protection Supervisor publishes Opinion on online manipulation and personal data

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In his Opinion, the EDPS says that the ever-increasing pervasiveness of big data analytics and artificial intelligence in our daily lives has a varied impact on civic engagement in decision-making and on the barriers to public involvement in democratic processes. The ease of gathering and storing large volumes of data generates massive amounts of digital advertising revenue, the vast majority of which, and the resulting power, is vested in a small number of companies, which dominate the digital field, the EDPS says.

Over the last two years, the EDPS has noted that initial optimism surrounding the potential for civic engagement stemming from a digitally connected world has changed into a concern that people’s minds are being manipulated. With devices designed to draw in the user and maximise their attention, the possibilities for exploitation are vast, the EDPS says. The feeding of large quantities of misleading, false or scurrilous information to people frequently with the aim of influencing political discourse and elections has been coined “fake news” or “online disinformation”.

Difficulty in discerning the true from the “fake” has resulted in what the EDPS refers to as a “crisis of confidence” in the digital ecosystem, something that embodies the mutual dependency of privacy and freedom of expression. With the persistent and relentless invasion into our personal lives and the harnessing of intimate data, which is sometimes stored indefinitely, people’s willingness to freely and honestly express themselves has been eroded with grave consequences to democracy, the EDPS says.

The EDPS calls for better enforcement of the rules on data processing, especially sensitive information, such as health data, and political and religious views. Antitrust and merger control, with the support of DPAs, also has a central role to play in addressing structural issues of concentrated markets, he said. However, with the threat posed to social norms and democracy collaboration should be expanded to include electoral regulators and audiovisual media regulators. Incentives in the market also need to be changed, he said. “That is why new ePrivacy rules are essential.” To access the EDPS Opinion, click here.