Estimated reading time 4 min

Lack of trust can be seen online and on the streets

People will not settle for being data or election cattle for much longer. As a result, fairness in the use of data is not only a business opportunity but perhaps also the only hope for modern democracy.


Jukka Vahti

Project Director, Digital power and democracy


Think about what would frustrate or annoy you the most.

Being pushed around in a crowd without an apology. A boss or co-worker who is a bully and who doesn’t understand things better than you and causes more harm than good with their style.

An online contact form with multiple-choice options that doesn’t allow you to raise an issue with a party who cannot be reached in any other way.

A fuel price increase without anyone asking you about it or being interested in how much you need a car in your daily life or work.

Yellow vests: security or insecurity?

All of the examples mentioned above contribute to creating general bad vibes, possibly even extensive resentment.

I’m just guessing, but I bet some sort of long-term frustration similar to the above examples led to millions of people voting for Donald Trump as US President, for Britain’s current Brexit chaos and a for comedian to be a leading political force in Italy.

And perhaps those who put on yellow reflective vests in France, the gilets jaunes , and have brought turmoil to the entire country, right up to the decision-making system, had and have the same feelings.

The key word in these cases is frustration. It is likely that it is often connected to a feeling of losing control over one’s own life or the fear of losing control. The lack of opportunities to influence situations that people feel unfair is also what makes the examples as annoying as they are.

With the world changing at a rapid pace, it is completely understandable, and even warranted, that one loses the feeling of control or fears it.

“People need autonomy to be able to fulfil themselves”

At the recent Sitra Debate event on the data economy, researcher Jani Koskinen stated that people are fed up with recurring scandals concerning data leaks and abuse.

The event presented the results of a recent survey conducted in four countries. The survey investigated people’s views on the use of data about them.

According to Koskinen, one value was an underlying theme found in the responses over others: autonomy, or the ability to control the use of data about oneself and one’s own digital life.

According to Koskinen, we no longer want to be either data or election cattle who are mainly exploited.

“People need autonomy to be able to fulfil themselves and be moral actors,” Koskinen said.

The results of the survey also indicated that a lack of trust is currently an obstacle to the use and growth of digital services. Trump, Brexit and the gilets jaunes, among other things, have shown that trust in the conventional channels of democratic participation are being questioned with increasing regularity.

Who needs democracy when you have data?

Those who are already frustrated, suspicious and powerless are also susceptible to getting excited about simplifications that appeal to the emotions and offer apparent participation. They harness complicated phenomena with no regard for the truth to promote one’s own agenda.

Populist actors across Europe are currently fishing for people’s trust mainly by agitating fears, eroding trust in traditional institutions and giving bold promises of a world that is simpler than the present.

Responsibility and building trust would right now offer an easy way of standing out from the competition, both in the data economy and politics, and both in Finland and abroad.

On the global scale, however, this does not seem to be very trendy at the moment. The headlines are, after all, dominated by models based on strong leaders, introversion and the control of citizens; these are also things to which digitisation and the use of data offer opportunities on a completely new scale.

In China, for example, a data-based monitoring system increasingly reduces the need for the powers that be to sense social trends and “pulse” through polls or freedom of speech.

Europe and Finland now have a uniquely important opportunity to show the world that a completely different, people-oriented, transparent and trust-based way is possible.

Nevertheless, this requires completely new tools for managing data about oneself and influencing social decision-making.


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