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Protecting the digital beneficiary – Privacy International

Protecting the digital beneficiary

This piece originally appeared here.

We are much more than our physical selves. We are also digital. Every moment we generate more data. Although sometimes this data is under our control, increasingly it is not. This uncontrolled data — this metadata — is often generated as a result of our interactions, movements, sentiments, and even our inaction. Despite being beyond our control, our metadata is still accessible to many. Hardly a day goes by without a news story or global event involving data: a breach of a company that processes metadata (e.g., Equifax), errors in sharing too much metadata (e.g., Facebook and mobile phone companies) or too little (e.g., Commonwealth Bank fine), influencing elections (e.g., converting metadata into political intelligence) and waging war. (e.g., drone strikes). But wait, let’s step back a bit — before we try to solve the world’s problems, let’s try to address the problem that arises for the humanitarian sector and the protection of beneficiaries.

Protecting the digital beneficiary — constituted of data beyond the beneficiary’s control — is even trickier for the humanitarian sector than protecting the physical person. While the sector’s organizations and institutions have become experts on the latter, there is so much to learn about protecting the digital person. No institution we can identify is doing this well, and few sectors must do so with such urgency. Despite much excitement in the sector for digitization, we aren’t yet seeing the same zeal for protection.

The Digital Person

Yes, a Digital Person sounds so archaic and sci fi at the same time. In its more banal form, answer this question: when you submit a CV, how is anything you claim actually verified? Perhaps we take it on trust that you aren’t lying. Or we seek additional data to verify: we contact the university to check if you graduated from there; we check past employers to see if you worked there and if yo...

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