The luxury of freedom and green lights of hope

The Big Picture is a PESTLE analysis for innovation. This article looks into Legal and Environment issues. You can also read Politics and Economics, as well as Society and Technology.

Although countries and governments are making tangible progress to define a legal framework around Big Data, press and media remind how looming mass-surveillance threatens our privacy and freedom in the online world. In the meantime, with the arrival of the COP21 in Paris at the end of the month, analysts outline hopes and risks around countries commitment to change, while presenting partnerships and initiatives that could help gain further impact.

Freedom: a luxury ?

After several years of fight, Google Book has finally been legally approved in the U.S., showing an evolution with regards to rights and ownership in the online world. Owen Williams describes recent events for The Next Web: ” A group of authors sued Google in 2008 claiming that the project violated copyright and deprived them of money, but today the US Appeals Court has ruled that the service was legal after all. According to Reuters, the project was found to meet “fair use” rules because, while the company scanned the text of entire books, it only made snippets of the information available in search results.

In Europe, payment services have recently obtained further security, offering better protection to end-users. As the EU reports, “The European Commission welcomes today’s adoption by the European Parliament of the revised Directive on Payment Services (PSD2). This new law, proposed by the European Commission in July 2013, enhances consumer protection, promotes innovation and improves the security of payment services. PSD2 is the latest in a series of laws recently adopted by the EU in order to provide for modern, efficient and cheap payment services and to enhance protection for European consumers and businesses”.

In the meantime, journalists remind the difficulty end-user face while attempting to protect their privacy. According to Romain Duriez from Le Nouvel Obs, “”Private life will become a luxury product“, as John N Gray says in an article we mentioned a few months ago. The British philosopher fears a world where private data protection would become the right of happy fews et where those who we intend to remain in the shadow would be considered as “suspects””.

In order to better manage the analysis of private data, the FCA has initiated researches to understand insurance and banks use of Big Data. As Sooraj Shah found out for Computing, “”We will conduct a market study to investigate how insurance firms use big data, such as web analytics and behavioural data tools (including the increasing use of social media) as well as other unconventional data sources,” the FCA said in its business plan for 2015/16.”We will identify potential risks and benefits for consumers, including whether the use of big data creates barriers to access products or services. We will also examine the regulatory regime to ensure that it does not unduly constrain beneficial innovation in this area,” it added.”

It is again in the press that we find criticisms of mass-surveillance policies that may be rolled out in the future. Jérôme Hourdeaux from  Mediapart provides an example of such analysis: “Detailed reports, meta-data, algorithm, black box, IMSI-catchers, weak signal… All these words go beyond technological revolution: it leads to a political project whereby entire populations and citizens would be put under scrutiny and monitored.”

Green lights of hope

New commitments enable analysts to foresee a positive outcome for the forthcoming COP21 in Paris. They do highlight necessary requirements. As Courrier International notes, “Li Shuo, political adviser for Greenpeace in China, notably remarked the extent to which China had changed its position, in a positive way, since Copenhagen climate conference, in December 2009, according to the Washington Post. He later added: “nevertheless, in order to ensure UN conference success (COP21), we will need to go much further. After waving goodbye to French president François Hollande, Chinese leaders will have to think thoroughly about the proposals they will have for him when they meet again in Paris at the end of the month.”

The challenge indeed seems highly difficult although early commitments prove willingness to reach a successful agreement. In her article for Policy Innovations, Fiona Harvey remarks how: “There is still no guarantee that an agreement will be signed in Paris. However, it looks increasingly likely. All of the world’s major greenhouse gas emitters have now submitted post-2020 targets, signaling their commitment to the talks. None of them wants to be blamed for wrecking the process. But getting upward of 190 countries to agree on anything is a daunting task, and whatever is agreed upon will doubtless be attacked as not being enough.”

Public-private partnerships are highlighted as a way to define a roll-out pragmatic and impactful solutions. As Kathy Calvin explains for the Huffington Post, “We are in a new era of development that recognizes the need for fresh approaches and engagement from all sectors. These lessons can help the international community move beyond traditional models and strengthen public-private partnerships so we can translate our next set of global goals from words to lasting change”.

This is the reason why privately owned companies such as Unilever seek to encourage young citizens to develop sustainable projects. With their latest contest, “ChangeMakers“, the firm shows how: “Our best chance for meeting the Global Goals is if everyone is aware of them and takes action to achieve them. We are now working with others, including Project Everyone and Global Citizen, to raise awareness of the Global Goals and inspire action around the world. The Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Awards are one significant way we want to inspire action—that is why the search is on for young innovators aged 35 or under that have already begun to address the challenges at the heart of the Global Goals”.

In fact, growing sustainable projects turns out to be profitable for businesses, which might be an additional reason for companies to start investigating this area. As Ariel Schwartz found out for Fast Co-Exist, “there’s a growing body of evidence that sustainability often goes hand in hand with profits. A new report from MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group adds even more data to the pile: according to a survey of 2,600 executives and managers around the world, the number of companies that profited from sustainability initiatives climbed to 37%—up 23% from last year”.

By explaining the opportunities and dangers identified in the legal and environment frameworks of innovation, experts and analysts define requirements that need to be taken into account for new developments:

  1. Privacy protection should be a right for all and not restricted to happy fews
  2. There are solutions to intelligently define rights and ownership in the online world
  3. Protecting citizens should not lead to threatening their freedom
  4. Countries commitments to protect the environment should be followed up by pragmatic propositions
  5. Public-private partnerships could contribute to a wider impact
  6. Sustainability is identified as a profitable business area

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