Imagine waking up one morning in the not so distant future. You reach for your phone and none of your apps work, you can’t access your email, all your social media accounts have been deleted.

You can’t get any money out at the bank because your facial recognition is not working and you have no way of hailing an autonomous taxi.

You find out you have no job because you can no longer access the app that gives you shifts on a flexible basis.

People on the street avoid you, they all know you have been blocked.

Maybe you criticised the big monopoly tech provider a little too much, maybe you did not want them to access and share as much of your personal information that they wanted to. But now you are isolated with no means to get your life back.

Does this dystopian scenario seem far fetched?

Recently, around two hundred people were banned from using Google services after they tried to take advantage of a tax loophole, and sell the Pixel smartphone whilst pocketing a tax saving. Those people woke up and couldn’t access their email, search engines, Google drives.

That would be disruptive to most people, but imagine as Google’s reach moves deeper into our lives, how isolated we could find ourselves if we were blocked by the tech behemoth.

You will read many articles about the death of Liberalism in relation to neoliberal policy failures, intellectually stale centre-ground policies etc. The biggest threat to Liberalism is a future where we choose to sacrifice privacy, a central pillar of personal liberalism for the great benefits tech innovation offers. Where we are happy with huge tech monopolies because they are able to offer us more benefits cheaply.

I say this with no suggestion that we should choose to fight this trade-off and be rigid in our position, but we should aim to empower the individual to control the fuel for all of this innovation, information.

A Digital Citizen’s Bill of Rights is a policy already supported by the Lib Dems that would enshrine key principles in law about the use of personal information that policy would then be based on. Policy is processual and takes far too long when you consider the speed of innovation, setting key principles will provide a good foundation for policy-making.

Education is a key factor, as a 34 year-old I grew up during a time where hardly anybody had a mobile phone and now everybody has a smartphone and other devices. I think about how my information is used, but if you talk to 20 year-old they are much less concerned. They have already accepted the trade-off in order to be connected and access the huge benefits that technology offers.

We then need to give people the ability to monitor and control the use of their information by creating a tool much like a credit file. We could then restrict the use of our information if it is being used in a way we do not like and at least how it is being used would be transparent.

There is also an opportunity to address inequality by adopting a citizen’s dividend system to our personal information, which has been described as the new oil that will fuel the future economy, perhaps through personal accounts or maybe through an information tax on the big tech giants that already are and will increasingly become monopolies.

Maybe the future of Liberalism is one in which we sacrifice key economic and personal liberal principles like breaking up monopolies and the right to privacy, in favour of a whole variety of new choices and freedoms. But a key liberal principle that cannot be sacrificed in all of this, is the right of the individual to decide.

* Darren Martin is the Press and Communications Officer for the Hackney Lib Dems.

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  • As liberals concerned about the concentration of power the big digital tech firms should be a big concern. However we should also be careful about each move in this area as it would be possible to reinforce the concentration rather than disperse it.

  • Nonconformistradical 18th Dec '17 - 2:47pm

    Since Darren didn’t bother to include a link to the info – here is some

    which claims google has now unbanned the devices and reactivated some of the suspended accounts.

    I really don’t have much sympathy though with people who appear to entrust their whole lives to a rapacious organisation like google.

  • William Fowler 18th Dec '17 - 3:34pm

    I got banned by ebay for some still unknown reason (said risky behaviour) despite 100 percent feedback etc and using it mostly to buy stuff, the service guy in Manila got back to me very quickly (like five seconds looking at his screen) and said I was still banned and could not have another account either (some people have had all the inhabitants at the same address barred because of one person being banned so not easy to sign up under another email. Luckily some searching on the forums brought up the name of the vice president in the UK and their email, was able to get unbanned and a half hearted apology but no explanation as to why I was banned in the first place. I suspect there is already some EU Dept that you can complain to but did not think of that then (later worked really well with energy co and council) but not much use in a couple of years time…

    Even just losing access to eBay almost threw me into panic mode so losing the whole lot as outlined above would not be amusing, million quid compensation per individual would make big companies think twice about it, though!

  • Darren Martin 18th Dec '17 - 3:47pm

    Nonconformistradical- I did include links in the article I submitted, must have been left out when posted. But thanks!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 18th Dec '17 - 3:59pm

    A very important piece from Darren

    Liberalism , and humanitarianism, should understand power and people.

    We have lost sight of the power of the individual person and a politics for people as the main emphasis.

    We see big businesses that are the very antithesis of any form of liberalism , Liberalism, and increasingly of humanitarianism, for me the most in many ways, important ism, that which helps people, especially those who need the help, and which elevates the human spirit and condition.

    We hear too much apologist stuff from Liberals , about big businesses, wrapped up as a pro free market nonsense.

    Free markets are what we do not have when we have a free for all, for we have the powerful bullies dominating, and when you are dominated you are not free.

    We really do need Liberal Democrats to wake up.

  • OnceALibDem 18th Dec '17 - 8:11pm

    One step could be a policy to make much less use of Facebook (ideally none at all) and/or advocating much greater restrictions on use by under 16s given the research now coming out on addictiveness and effect of well-being it can have. That could potentially only get worse as a younger generation leaves Facebook (some evidence this is happening and FB responding by introducing a ‘Facebook for Kids’)

    It was worrying when the Lib Dem campaign for a digital bill of rights included a pre-selected opt-in box for information to be used (widely and without much limit) by the Lib Dems (this has now stopped but isn’t much better). I wasn’t inclined to take them all that seriously. The way forward should be clear consent (not implied), clear details as to what is being recorded and why, and any “interpreted information” derived from that information explained and a clear right to data destruction.

    The oil analogy is a useful one though. Because the oil industry has not been without its negative consequences in the long term (there have also been benefits for individual freedoms)

    (BTW – Privacy badger shows LDV using a Facebook tracker on this site. Maybe that should stop as well?)

  • I agree with the sentiments of this article, but the vast majority of people don’t care. The new GDPR regulations should help in theory, but in reality it won’t make much difference because most people will happily “opt in” to any amount of tracking, profiling and ads in exchange for “free” services.

    I chose not to have a facebook (or twitter, instagram or whatever the kids are using these days) account, and take steps to avoid being tracked on the internet as a matter of principle, but even within the Lib Dems this semi-isolates me as a lot of local party discussions take place on a private facebook group. But I don’t see why I should have to sign up to sacrifice any measure of privacy on the internet just to engage with fellow liberals.

  • Nonconformistradical 18th Dec '17 - 9:34pm

    @Nick Baird
    “I don’t see why I should have to sign up to sacrifice any measure of privacy on the internet just to engage with fellow liberals.”

    I agree with you 100%

  • Nonconformistradical 18th Dec '17 - 9:35pm

    @Nick Baird
    “I don’t see why I should have to sign up to sacrifice any measure of privacy on the internet just to engage with fellow liberals.”

    I agree with you 100%

  • As humankind advances so should our human rights. I’m not sure they are and fear many would not wish them too.

  • I love the idea of a Privacy / Digital Assets “Credit File”. There’s an interesting idea to explore in that…

    *goes away thinking…*

  • OnceALibDem 19th Dec '17 - 1:08am

    “We then need to give people the ability to monitor and control the use of their information by creating a tool much like a credit file.”

    This misunderstands what a credit file is. It isn’t a tool that was made to enable an indvidual to monitor and control their credit. It is a tool developed by lenders so they only lend to people who can afford to repay (well in theory!). It doesn’t include all your financial information (not all lenders register all debts with all credit agencies) and debts don’t appear on it when they are more than 6 years old even if you still owe the money.

    One of those three companies is of course Equifax!

  • Laurence Cox 19th Dec '17 - 9:57am

    You should always have AdBlock Plus and NoScript installed in your browser. They save a great deal of bandwidth by cutting out the Ads and blocking third-party scripts. Of course, you should then be donating to LDV to keep it running.

  • William Fowler 19th Dec '17 - 10:00am

    I suspect the other purpose of a credit file is so you can be tracked down if you default… banks etc inform them when you change address and when you actually sign up to check your credit that is more info added to the file… be nice to completely opt out of it!

    You also have the council using the NI and DOB info not just to check who you are but added to the searchable electoral roll (even the opt-out they give you is searchable just not quite so easily, costs £3 per person via internet co’s), happened a few years ago and coincided with a large increase in ID theft. They leap up and down when you refuse to give the info, with all kinds of threats, and were not amused when I pointed out they were breaking EU data protection rules and possibly human rights as politicians and VIPS can be added to the anonymous register which is only accessible by police etc.

    I agree with Lorenzo, have to get the LibDems back to protecting individuals whilst pointing out that Labour are for an expanded, intrusive State and Con’s are for letting big business rip people off.

  • Darren,

    this is an interesting concept that I think should be developed:

    “There is also an opportunity to address inequality by adopting a citizen’s dividend system to our personal information, which has been described as the new oil that will fuel the future economy, perhaps through personal accounts or maybe through an information tax on the big tech giants that already are and will increasingly become monopolies.”

  • Darren Martin 19th Dec '17 - 6:15pm

    @OnceALibDem the credit file example is the best way I could describe it. The concept is a monitoring tool for the use of your personal data. Would take a much longer article to flesh this out, my thinking would be around using blockchain.
    There is an app in development that monitors what all your other apps do with your info so the tech is possible.
    It would require a lot of thought and debate as to exactly what information you could monitor, but I think it is certainly worth doing.

  • Darren Martin 19th Dec '17 - 6:17pm

    @JoeBourke my thinking is similar to the Alaska model that they have with oil. But it could be a simple as tax on internet companies that is them distributed in the form of a basic income.

  • Darren Martin 19th Dec '17 - 6:41pm

    @Nick Baird the point you make about isolation is a good one and at the heart of the article. At the moment you can opt out and not necessarily feel too many effects, although a few on this thread have already described some consequences.
    But in the future with the “internet of things”, where everything in your home and your clothing, accessories etc. have sensors and are run by huge firms like Google, you will have little choice but to agree.
    If we continue with the same regulations we have now, I see a future where we have those who accept no privacy as a trade off for the huge benefits of tech, and almost like a neo-Luddite class who do not accept it but are excluded from so much.
    We need to start reform now.

  • Neil Sandison 20th Dec '17 - 8:57pm

    Well done Darren great article on how we should fear our liberties are being taken away by unaccountable corporate bodies .But governments are just as bad why should you be made to access so many services on line ? .why even though you may have lived here all your life do you need a passport or driving licence to prove you are a British Citizen .Yes i know they will all shout security and potential fraud but is really because the state just wants to ensure our compliance and ease of management and that being a non conformist has now become the new sin. Civil liberties are easily lost and we know we cant rely upon Labour who wanted every one controlled by ID cards .Lets take back control of our own lives from intrusive corporate and state machines and regain our rights from those who would enslave us.

  • OnceALibDem 20th Dec '17 - 9:54pm

    That is potentially something with merit. Though it would rely on a new technology to do that, requires all data-users to sign up – or some common architecture. I’m also not sure how you do that in a way that doesn’t pose a large leak risk of unauthorised/hacked access.

    And it doesn’t really deal with the issue of how do you stop an organisation doing this.

    Where I think you are bang on the money is that the big risk to privacy is not – as has previously been suspected – from an over-intrusive state but from private businesses. The state is, by comparision, easier to regulate.

    In terms of campaigns there is a lot of scope for people to make much wider subject access requests post GDPRS coming into force. As there will (AIUI) no longer be a fee that becomes more practical.

  • David Allen 21st Dec '17 - 7:11pm

    Why not set up a state-owned competitor to Facebook, governed by an elected council, promising complete financial transparency and rejecting all political (or foreign national!) sponsorship?

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