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In the video interview, Dr. Daniel Schnurr, information systems scholar at the University of Passau, speaks about the fallout of the Facebook data scandal and about how users develop a sense of value for their data.

The information systems scholar Dr. Daniel Schnurr

Do you still have a Facebook account? Not to worry, you are one of over two billion users worldwide who contributed to the group’s USD 5 billion net profit earned through advertising in the first quarter of 2018.

Facebook did not really have to fear the consequences of the newly revealed data theft by Cambridge Analytica, says the information systems scholar Dr. Daniel Schnurr in the video interview. At the University of Passau, he heads the Research Group Data Policies, which is funded by the Bavarian State Ministry for Science and Art in the framework of the Center Digitisation.Bavaria. The group aims to throw light on the question of how access to data in digital markets should be facilitated in the future.

From the end of May, the new Data Protection Regulation will be applicable. Everything is bound to change for the better then, right?

In the video interview (in German), Dr. Daniel Schnurr, information systems scholar at the University of Passau, speaks about the fallout of the Facebook data scandal and about how users develop a sense of value for their data.

1. More transparency could lull users into a false sense of security

Not necessarily, says Dr. Schnurr. It is true that the new regulation will ensure greater transparency and, as a result, give users more control over their data. The idea is spot on, in itself, considering that many users presumably do not even know which data Facebook uses, on what occasions and for what purpose. For example, just take the fact that Facebook also reads private messages in Messenger.

However, greater transparency could have an unintended effect: it may lull users too deeply into a new sense of security. They may become more willing to disclose their data, according to Dr. Schnurr. Although this will delight Facebook, it runs counter to what the new Data Protection Regulation intends to achieve. After all, the Regulation also upholds the principle of data minimization, which says that companies should only collect data for specific purposes and as sparingly as possible.

2. Breaking up the corporation is not a solution

Should the corporation itself be the target, to divide it into its components Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp? The information systems expert's response: He is not quite sure what purpose that would serve. In his mind, it may even be helpful to have the data concentrated in one large network when it comes to data security. Distributing the data across several different companies could also increase the error rate.

3. More effective control by the authorities

Greater transparency in the use of algorithms and in the filter and selection criteria used could help, says Dr. Schnurr. However, this would not benefit the users as much as the authorities. Because that is where the researcher detects a ‘high level of information asymmetry’. In terms of legal regulations, Germany already ensures a fairly high level of data protection. Still, authorities often find it difficult to enforce these regulations because they are not kept up to speed in lots of areas.

4. Self-commitment for effective data protection?

To make certain that transparency does not lead to unintended effects among users, researchers have set out to analyse and test a number of different tools. An example: compulsory commitment using technical tools. Users would be asked to take a moment and think about how they would like to handle their data going forward. Their decision would then be binding for the long term. Behavioural economists call this a commitment device. They cite Odysseus as an example, who had himself bound to the ship’s mast so that he could resist the song of the Sirens.

Perhaps now is a good time to think about such a long-term commitment. In the new Facebook Data Policy, the network has included a description of the data it siphons off, for what purpose and on what occasions. It also provides information about the new face recognition tool, which Facebook reintroduced shortly before the new Data Protection Regulation took effect in Europe.