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Nothing New Under the Sun

By Bart Willemsen | April 22, 2022 | 0 Comments

It’s strange how good things don’t seem to ‘make it’ when they perhaps should have. I’m fairly certain the dismal state of affairs regarding the environment for example, did not have to be as it is. We’re the first generation to truly see, measure and know that the way we live will end life as we know it, and seemingly also the last generation to truly do something about it. But as king Solomon was once attributed to say; ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’. Bear with me, I’ll make sure this blog has both a ‘green’ and a ‘privacy’ thing.

Last week, I saw a movie. Other than it being rather good, my attention was drawn to a brief shot of president Jimmy Carter. Ruling the U.S. when I was born into this world, two years into his presidency did he unveil 32 solar panels on the White House rooftop. That was 43 years ago. I know I installed a few of them on top of my own house only last year. We all try to do something, right? It’s not perfect, and has a footprint of its own, but at least it reduces my carbon footprint on this earth a little. What if we had all started doing the same since 1979? The dependency on Russian oil&gas in the EU would likely not have been a big debate today, nor would connected payments have funded one of the worst events in this century.

So I looked a little further into this. Turns out, it was already in the year 1806 that French-born Swiss inventor and politician Francois Isaac de Rivaz came up with a hydrogen-powered engine. And for anyone who is today boasting about driving hybrid or full EV, note that over 120 years ago, New York City is reported to already have had a fleet of 60-odd electric taxis. Note, that even speed limits were initially imposed because of a resource issue, in the early 70s in various countries. I’m the first to admit goosebumps following the sound of a good V8, or admiration for the looks of a ’63 E-type or ’64 GTO, but ‘getting away with it’ as long as we did on gas-guzzling wheels and wings now puts us in an embarrassing and painful situation we may not have had to be in. What if ‘team environment’ had won the race from the getgo, instead of ‘team money and pollution’?

How does this relate to privacy. I’ll tell you how, there’s nothing new under the sun: I find myself in an age where I have to be concerned about potential indecent invitations on social media to a 13 year-old daughter, seeing TV shows cancelled because such proposals turn to reality, hashtag-me-too’s and I don’t know how much more filth. And yet, I also find myself talking to companies who discuss ‘consent’ as if it suddenly means something very different when it relates to customers. It doesn’t. The history of informed consent goes back to the early 1950s, but I’m fairly sure that long before that, even ‘Dornroschen‘ would still be asleep if the guy that ended the fairy tale with a kiss would’ve just paused a moment and asked consent first. It is, or at least forever was, a common decency.

So how is it that people act surprised when Louis Vuitton gets confronted with a class action for processing biometrics without proper consent? After all, both Ulta and Mary Kay were hit for exactly the same in 2021. And it’s just one example. In January, I published with the esteemed Katell Thielemann a note that has a much longer list of incidents, with some advice to executives (Gartner client paywall) how to handle biometrics and cyber-physical systems (CPS). And I’m not just talking ‘please consent to us using your data’. Consent has to be very specific, for each individual purpose. Which is a serious flaw in some legislative efforts, like the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA), where the requirement for purpose limitation seems omitted. Something various experts have called attention for. Because otherwise, tech giants may continue to ‘get away with things’. And where will that lead us?

Well…. Just as the oil&gas ‘getting away with’, the digital processing of data has an environmental cost. Only cookies trackers of the top 1 million websites alone are good for almost 11,500 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions, every month. Imagine what we’re messing up when in 2025, according to Statista, we’re handling over 180 ZB of data. This calls for sustainable technology (paywalled). And though that comes with caution (paywalled), focusing on proper handling (paywalled) of timely end-of-life of data (paywalled) is likely the best way to prevent nasty breaches, privacy infringements, as well as environmental and personal insults and injuries.

Now is the time to get it right. Place our bets where it makes sense. We may not have another chance. Even though the sun will shine on long after our point of no return.

And much of that may just start with Common Decency and Common Sense. Could’ve been a Jane Austen novel title.

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