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About us Policy and strategy A Roadmap to Data Autonomy
Header image Data Autonomy

Data as the lifeblood of our online lives

Date:10 July 2023
Author:Vilma Nikolaeva


Data Autonomy is often associated with terms such as control or ownership over one’s data. Personally, I believe this definition leaves out the core aspect of data as the lifeblood of our online lives and rather than control, it is what makes digital self-determination possible. The ability to understand the flow of our own data and the decisional power we have over it as well as our privacy rights, can only be exercised once they are seen as part of a bigger connected picture: Data Autonomy. 

Impact on our digital footprint

Being part of the student community at the University of Groningen, the biggest issue which should be tackled in this regard is the lack of importance attributed to one’s autonomy over their data. Oftentimes, students do not recognize the risks connected to the loss of data or the lock-in effect of certain online services, which only Big Tech is currently capable of providing. There seems to be little concern over how and with whom we share our data, including sensitive and private information, underestimating the impact this might have on our digital footprint and online autonomy. In this sense, even academic records have become part of private companies’ already vast databases, allowing further opportunities for profiling as well as little to no control over the access of such data by third party actors. 

Educating on Data Autonomy

The inability to escape such digital ecosystems even within our educational experience brings with it a sense of hopelessness, leading ultimately to a passive and indifferent attitude. This translates in a lack of stimulus on the students’ side to research or actively inform themselves on the topics of privacy, personal data, and digital rights. Educating students on Data Autonomy’s importance would mean empowering them and allowing them to see beyond the frustration of a static and privately owned system. As a student at this institution, I trust the optimal way to start the conversation is through what our university does best: teaching. 

A new approach on to the digital world

Building on this knowledge, students will be much more prepared to tackle current and future digital trends – innovating the online environment in socially responsible and ethical ways. Now more than ever, there is the need to confront issues such as biased data utilized to train algorithms, data breaches or misuse of personal information. The concept of Data Autonomy can thus provide students with the correct tools to foster a new approach to the digital world, built on the core values of privacy, trust and ownership. This will result in a deeper reflection on how the future of the Internet of Things (IoT) as a whole might look like, giving us the opportunity to critically think about practical solutions and become individuals with a forward-looking perspective. 

We have a say

At the same time, it can empower us to make adequate choices when it comes to our data and help us navigate the (still developing) plethora of digital rights we have at our disposal. Learning for example about the right to access or rectification, will help us realize we have a say in how and to which extent our data can freely flow. The simple act of just acknowledging certain safeguards exist can bring back a sense of autonomy and choice, allowing us to be active participants of our digital lives rather than indifferent observers. In a way, we hold the future of the cyber-world in our hands. It will be up to us to formulate and enforce its functioning through new and innovative structures. Data Autonomy can only help with the decision-making process we will soon have to face.

About the author

Vilma Nikolaeva
Vilma Nikolaeva


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