Tech Topics
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Data Deluge: The Human Rights Crisis

Written By Michael Ferrara

Created on 2023-11-06 17:41

Published on 2023-11-07 15:56


In an era where data is as ubiquitous as the air we breathe, understanding the intersection of human rights and data has never been more critical. "We, the Data" by Wendy H. Wong delves into this complex relationship, unraveling the threads that bind our digital existence to the core principles of human dignity and freedom. This article explores the eight prevailing themes from Wong's insightful work, each serving as a beacon to guide us through the digital landscape.

Data Pervasiveness: The Ubiquity of Data

The pervasiveness of data in our lives is exemplified by the success of technologies like Ring's video doorbell. The author points out that Ring, which became a market leader in video doorbells, sold over a million devices during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the product's popularity and its contribution to what has been described as "the largest civilian surveillance network the US has ever seen."

Human Rights and Data: The Inextricable Link

The inseparable link between human rights and data is highlighted by the need for data practices to align with human rights principles. The author points out that data about people should not be treated merely as objects to be sorted and analyzed. Instead, there should be a recognition of the intrinsic connection between data and the individuals from whom it is derived.

Datafication: The Rights Over Personal Data

Datafication transforms everyday activities into digital data, which can generate predictions that impact lives significantly. The need for a shift from viewing individuals as mere sources of data to recognizing them as stakeholders with rights is emphasized, advocating for collective action to address the effects of data collection and usage. The author suggests that many common practices of data collection should be considered a form of theft, termed "data appropriation."

Big Tech's Influence: The Structural Power of Corporations

The impact of Big Tech companies on society is profound, shaping choices and identities. A proactive approach to technology development is called for, one that incorporates social, political, and cultural concerns, recognizing individuals as stakeholders in the world of data. Wong discusses how these companies, such as Amazon, Alibaba, Apple, Baidu, Google, Meta (formerly Facebook), Microsoft, and Tencent, have shaped our political and social world. These companies are described as "data collectors," and the language used to describe most individuals in relation to them is "data subjects." Through the integration of their products and services into our lives, they are influencing our choices through nudges and mediating our identities and capabilities. This power dynamic is so pervasive that it becomes difficult to opt out or challenge the architectures that shape our world.

Human Agency and Data: Ownership of Personal Identity

The issue of facial recognition technology and the ownership of one's facial data is raised, questioning the personal nature of our faces and the legal evolution of the concept of facial ownership. The discussion moves beyond privacy to autonomy and dignity.

Data Literacy as a Right: Empowerment Through Knowledge

Data literacy is advocated as a human right, essential for navigating the age of datafication. It is not just about individual empowerment but also about collective action, necessary for making informed decisions and demanding accountability from data handlers.

Collective Action and Data: Rights Beyond Life

The notion of digital afterlife and the rights associated with data post-mortem is explored. The rights and considerations afforded to physical remains should extend to digital remains, which are not merely property but constitute personhood.

Norms and Data Governance: Stakeholders in Data

The need for individuals to recognize themselves as stakeholders in the world of data is underscored, advocating for a proactive and rights-based approach to digital and analog lives. A societal shift is urged, from passive data subjects to active data citizens who have a say in how data about people is used and governed.


The data deluge in our digital era brings not just progress but profound concerns. Technologies like video doorbells, while convenient, have woven a web of surveillance, subtly infringing on our privacy. Facial recognition technology, once a marvel, now threatens our autonomy, commodifying our identities.

Predictive algorithms, a marvel of the modern world, cast long shadows, often perpetuating biases under the guise of objectivity. The dominance of Big Tech raises alarms, with a few corporations shaping our choices and narratives, challenging our freedom.

Data literacy offers a glimmer of hope, yet it's not a cure-all. The collective effort needed to counterbalance the power of data custodians is formidable. Our digital legacies, extending beyond life, prompt us to question our rights and the persistence of our digital selves.

In this deluge, the negative impacts are real and multifaceted, touching every aspect of our society. The erosion of privacy, the monetization of identity, and the looming specter of a surveillance state are immediate challenges. We must pivot from being mere data subjects to empowered data citizens, ensuring that our digital future is aligned with our human rights. Only through active participation and advocacy can we mitigate the risks and protect our collective dignity in the digital landscape.

#DataPrivacy #BigData #DataLiteracy #SurveillanceCapitalism #DigitalIdentity

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About Tech Topics

Tech Topics is a newsletter with a focus on contemporary challenges and innovations in the workplace and the broader world of technology. Produced by Boston-based Conceptual Technology (, the articles explore various aspects of professional life, including workplace dynamics, evolving technological trends, job satisfaction, diversity and discrimination issues, and cybersecurity challenges. These themes reflect a keen interest in understanding and navigating the complexities of modern work environments and the ever-changing landscape of technology.

Tech Topics offers a multi-faceted view of the challenges and opportunities at the intersection of technology, work, and life. It prompts readers to think critically about how they interact with technology, both as professionals and as individuals. The publication encourages a holistic approach to understanding these challenges, emphasizing the need for balance, inclusivity, and sustainability in our rapidly changing world. As we navigate this landscape, the insights provided by these articles can serve as valuable guides in our quest to harmonize technology with the human experience.