Our digital alter ego  is abundant - and we better take care of it. The concept  of digital sovereignty should help us to manage it.

Each and every one of us has a digital alter ego. But who of us knows, where this alter ego is stored? Even more relevant: which attributes are associated with our alter ego? Or: who is making money from knowing or using our alter ego? May be only partially or in combination with other data? Digital sovereignty – the management or control of our alter ego in the digital world – should help us answer above questions when managing our digital alter ego.

 Many of today’s decisions are made by computers in the cyber domain. For example: are you eligible for a credit, how much do you have to pay for life insurance, are you allowed to travel by plane? Of course, such decisions have to be made and computers are indispensable to process such data efficiently and at acceptable costs. Assuming such decisions

  • are based on correct data,
  • the data used have been legally acquired,
  • and the data use is permitted in the first place,

then the resulting decisions should be ok for the data owner. But in many cases, such assumptions are not fulfilled. For example, do Facebook users really want human resource agents see the pictures of the last beach party, when they post such pictures for their friends? The names on the EU wide list of terrorists (http://www.eu-info.de/sys/nachrichten/EU-Terrorliste.1069.html, copied on 2016-01-07, 14:24 UTC) are not hidden or secret, but even despite final rules of court some names have not been deleted. And, last but not least, especially in the last years a number of cases became public, where a person’s individual rights to privacy have been neglected. Such cases are of particular interest as the violating data have been derived automatically (e.g. by automatic search phrase completion).

However, the above examples also show that individuals can defend themselves against misuse or unwanted use of their digital alter ego. For example:

  • Demanding adequate legal protection, which effectively limits and controls the use of personal data in the Internet,
  • Asking what are political parties are saying about digital sovereignty,
  • Look for help, e.g. through legal insurance, at data protection entities/agencies or at consumer protection agencies.

Of course, the cautious use of data (a stripped down alter ego) is the quickest way to achieve digital sovereignty. However, there are limits to this approach, in particular if you are aware of the exponential growth rates of sensors (at your wrist, in the house, in the car, in the street). In his essay “Big Data – der erfasste Mensch”/”Big Data –digitizing mankind”), Jannis Bruehl thinks the accumulation of a full digital alter ego is unavoidable (http://www.sueddeutsche.de/digital/big-data-digitalisierung-ist-weder-gut-noch-boese-1.2809689, copied on 2016-01-09, 10:30 UTC). The functions, which are already exploited in big data applications and the ones which will be available in the near future, will allow the generation of a complete alter ego from a number of even small data pieces.