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A unique investigation is underway – How are decision-makers influenced on the web?

Discussion about collection and use of data on the web continues to rise. In a Sitra’s project, well-known politicians and societal influencers are becoming test subjects with a tracking app installed on their test phones. The test persons include MEP Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, MPs Atte Harjanne and Anders Adlercreutz as well as Sitra’s President Jyrki Katainen.

Image: Veera Vänskä / Miltton

Writer

Jukka Vahti

Leading specialist, Democracy and participation, Sitra

Published

How are decision-makers influenced on the web, how is data collected about them and what does this data allow its collectors to do? Discussion about the role of social media and data giants has only grown since the 2016 US Presidential elections and the Brexit referendum campaign; what kind of power does data and digitisation create.

Sitra’s Digipower investigation, launched this autumn, aims to investigate what parties Finnish and European decision-makers share their data with and what kind of an overview can be generated based on the data. The investigation will be conducted between November 2021 and January 2022.

“We might be worried about our privacy online. Yet few people think about what new ways of influencing and the compromise of political decision-makers’ privacy could mean for democracy,” say Sitra’s Tiina Härkönen, Leading Specialist, and Riitta Vänskä, Specialist.

The investigation is a follow-up to Sitra’s 2019 Digitrail report that aimed to understand how parties collect data about us through a variety of online services. The current project will go deeper by understanding the ways in which data is collected and identify the potential impacts on societal decision-making.

Well-known societal influencers – or the influenced?

A better understanding of the collection of data and the influence that is exercised with it is important because, for the time being, we still know relatively little about it. We also need more information about the importance of data-based monitoring and user profiling for society and for democracy.

So far, individual people have had few tools to enable them to benefit from data collected about them in the form of better services, for example. In this investigation, each test subject will be assigned a personal ”digitrainer” to be able to make decisions based on better knowledge and personal experience. Sitra is the initiator, sponsor, and co-ordinator of the Digipower investigation.

The test subjects include MEP Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, MPs Atte Harjanne and Anders Adlercreutz and Sitra’s President Jyrki Katainen. According to Kumpula-Natri, there should be clear-cut rules for the collection and use of data.

“Moreover, it must not be so that all data streams ultimately end up in a single flow that is a private large corporation. Data is an important factor of production that needs a fair market. Also, data is a bit like carbon dioxide: politics, business and legislation are created around it. Both are equally invisible, but equally significant!”

A separate article about what the four test subjects think about the data economy and their expectations for the project in more detail will be published on the Digipower page. The names of all the test subjects will be published during November.

The progress of the project will be monitored on the Digipower investigation website, with weekly updates. The results will be published in January 2022.

PROJECT

Digipower investigation

How are decision-makers influenced? The purpose of this unique investigation is to identify new ways of exercising influence and to improve the transparency of the use of data.

Writer

Jukka Vahti

Leading specialist, Democracy and participation, Sitra

Published

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