Digital sovereignty for everyone is based on the technical possibility of having sovereignty over one’s own data – and on the will to make use of this possibility.

How can we keep control over our data?

Digital sovereignty is one of the buzzwords of the year. What it usually means is the question of how Europe, Germany or individual companies can free themselves from their dependence on technology giants based in other regions of the world without suffering serious disadvantages as a result. But digital sovereignty is more than just a political debate for think tanks in Brussels or Berlin. It also affects each and every one of us. How can we keep control over our personal data if we are more than happy and willing to benefit from the convenient services provided by large Internet companies (and not just by them)? Or, to put it differently: How can what is widespread immaturity in relation to data end?

Technical and mental prerequisites

Any answer to this question must take into account both technical and mental prerequisites. About technology: First of all, we must have the possibility to decide who receives which data from us and when – and what they are or aren’t allowed do with it. More often than not this requires huge effort or cannot be done at all at present. Once we have checked the box somewhere, we will only in exceptional cases read the fine print at a later time that tells us which use of our data we have actually agreed to. One reason for this is the fact that the terms of use are often phrased in a way that makes them convoluted and hard to understand. As a result, we don’t see the forest for the trees, so to speak. If we want to see it at all.

Ending our self-imposed immaturity in relation to data

Which brings us to the mental prerequisites: Even the best technical solutions are useless if people just don’t apply them. People need to be educated, enlightened. And what the philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote in 1784 on the concept of enlightenment can easily be applied to data:

“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own mind without another person’s guidance. This immaturity is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another person’s guidance. Sapere aude! Have the courage to use your own mind, is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.”
Immanuel Kant

The “privacy paradox”

If we replace the term “mind” with “data” in this quote – which is nothing more than a consequence of our actions in a digitalized world – it becomes clear that we are very often acting immaturely when it comes to our personal data. Although in surveys an overwhelming majority of us say how important data protection is. The University of St. Gallen just recently has confirmed this contradiction in a comprehensive series of studies with surveys and experiments conducted on behalf of TÜV Rheinland. Researchers call this a “privacy paradox”.

TÜV Rheinland commissioned this series of studies to examine what a compelling technical solution for more sovereignty, especially in connection with data originating in vehicles, could look like. Because we firmly believe that handling data in a way that creates trust is becoming increasingly important – for those who share their data and for those who want to use it. After all, it is extremely difficult and costly to restore trust once it has been destroyed.

Data trustees could be a solution

So how can consumer trust be enhanced? One of the ideas put forward by the study series was the use of a data trustee. In such a scenario, a data trustee acts as a non-partisan authority which ensures that only the data approved by users is shared and that all other data is made anonymous before it is passed on to vendors or other interested parties.

And indeed, as the research has found, an independent third party such as a TÜV company acting as data trustee ensures significantly more confidence on the part of consumers in the trustable handling of their data – regardless of whether it is data from networked vehicles or smartphones, for example. Interestingly, the studies also found that consumers are more willing to share their data if they have that kind of confidence.

To sum things up:

Data immaturity can be ended if we ourselves want it to end and if we find mechanisms of sharing data that create trust instead of destroying trust.





Franziska Weiser is responsible for the area of “Digital Mobility Services” in the Future Mobility Solutions team and is the project manager for the development of the “Data Fiduciary Platform for Fleet Services”. She is always looking for new experiences – professionally or privately. No matter if they arise from the development of new services in the field of shared economy, Connected Car Data or digital damage management or if they occur while sailing through Alaska, eating Okonomiyaki food in Japan or climbing in the Himalayas.

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