16. July 2021

Transatlantic Dialogue with Shoshana Zuboff: “The World Is Looking Towards Europe.”

Her oeuvre has been translated into 25 languages and many have already likened its significance to Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital”: Shoshana Zuboff’s bestseller “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”. At a joint event with her, the renowned data protection lawyers Max Schrems and Jan Philipp Albrecht, and several thousand viewers, Sven Giegold and I enjoyed an exemplary translatlantic debate. You can watch the event here. Together, we talked about the kind of society we would like to live in. We are an as yet young information society; we could take another path, and Europe ought to lead the way.


“My message is not one of failure, but rather a call to action! Now we have the chance to create a democratic digital age,” the legendary digital economist Zuboff said, whom many people know from Netflix’s “The Social Dilemma” documentary. She said all elected politicians ought to be aware that it is high time to protect and fight for our democratic rights. “We are at a stage where it is no longer just a question of social media problems, but rather of surveillance capitalism and its consequences.”


Shoshana Zuboff, who lives in Maine, USA, made it clear in this transatlantic dialogue that the foundations for a democratic counter-revolution were currently being laid in Europe: “You are pioneers and the world is looking towards Europe.” She also said that the USA is making important progress. Zuboff advocated for a joint vision.


During the discussion, Max Schrems, known as “Facebook’s public enemy number one” (Telegraph, UK), also alluded to the favourable mindset in Europe. He said that data protection being a fundamental right and personal data belonging to the individual was more anchored in society here. “Taking possession of such data is theft.” Protecting personal data is important to the majority of society, he said, a wish and right ignored by businesses, however. Schrems has been fighting tirelessly for years to implement data protection rights in Europe. He is currently tackling opaque and confusing cookie practices.


As the debate continued, Shoshana Zuboff strongly objected to all kinds of surveillance advertising: “We have also banned markets which traded people or human organs in the past as well,” she said. We could achieve the same with the trade of personal data. She called for a regulation of the democratic century in which economic interests were not pitted against democracy. Shoshana Zuboff: “This is worth fighting for!”


That was a great impetus for our work on the “Digital Services Act”. Amongst other things, my amendments to the draft legislation call for a ban on vast amounts of personal data being saved in the dissemination of advertising. Platforms should no longer have any financial incentives to create profiles of their users, as such data profiles are wholly undemocratic. They render us transparent and susceptible to manipulation.


Before platforms colonised the internet, it was a bastion of freedom. And with just a few legislative amendments, we could turn it back into precisely that: a free space for democratic exchange for everyone. Let us act now!
I would like to thank all event participants again for this very enlightening debate!


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