5G is coming: is our data up for sale in post Brexit trade deals? 

Estimated 3 minutes read: It is not too far of a stretch to say that data is the 21st centuries crude oil. Big data is King, and the data scientist is the wizard that cast their spells within its kingdom. The reality, of course, is that for data to be so valuable, it needs to be rich, useful and actionable. Without these critical facts, it just becomes noise. And as businesses big and small and government bodies alike tackle the beast of big data and try to understand its worth it's easy for crucial concerns of data privacy and proper use to get missed or swept under the carpet.   

Let's face it; we have become the product. Our data is sold, bought, traded, analysed, profiled and put into machine learning algorithms at such alarming rates that we are all but blind to the pervasiveness of it. We are so used to just clicking 'agree' on the privacy terms and conditions that we no longer even really notice it other than as a barrier to getting our updates or that app everyone is banging on about. Even to the degree that the efficacy of the terms and conditions forms and the ease of which we agree to them is being questioned based on behavioural economic grounds. These being making it too easy for people to select the 'default' or take the path of least resists in the mental heuristics of life's decision making without really making an informed, conscious decision.   

As the data gets 'bigger' and processing power needs to be increased so do our bandwidths, and we are going 5G. In simple terms, 5G just means the fifth generation, and two confusing dialogues are going on in the press about 5G and what it means and where it is being used.   

There is 5G Mobile Technology which you and I will no doubt use on our phones for faster downloads, better connection and so forth and then there is 5G WIFI which will be primarily be used by business, industry and no doubt government agencies for faster sending, processing and analysis of data across 5G WIFI enabled networks with less congestion across the network, it will also be rolled out into homes such as apartment buildings where WIFI networks can be sluggish if all routing from a central hub.   

Both essentially are different ways of processing more data and are therefore a real potential for growth within countries where the technologies have been enabled, and the networks have set up. It is no wonder then that the west does not want to be left behind and only this week we have news this week stating the US has backed down on some of its concerns and the UK has also conceded to using Huawei to build 5G technology infrastructure.   

Previously there were fears in parliament and in the media of opening this up the creation of the architecture and infrastructure to a company that is said to have close links to the Chinese government. But this should not be used in the media to overshadow the fact that the primary focus and benefit of 5G tech is; that it is designed to process and allow the gathering of more data from the likes of you and me. And this is not by the Chinese Intelligence but by US and UK government agencies and big business.   

The 5G Internet of Things has great potential to move humanity forward, make us more connected and drive efficiency to drive down our ecological impact. The manufacturing industry is looking to use it to create SMART factories that produce less waste, use less energy and reduce the cost of production. But it also holds with it much larger potential benefits and dangers in opening the possibilities of AI, machine learning and automation.   

More and more jobs from factory workers to medical workers are being lost to automation and 5G allows easier connecting of the dots in the digital thread that will replace the need for human decision making in manufacturing, logistics and a wide range of other job roles.   

The ability of data-driven biohacking is now a reality and with 5 to 10 years we will no doubt have applications on our phones that know more about our health than ourselves and even our doctors, arguably with more accuracy.   

But this all comes as a cost. All this innovation and progress comes at a price. And the cost is our data. Is our information. We become the product. And for us to take part and get the benefit of these advances in technology we will have to give free access to that data. We will even have to pay for the privilege.  

The fact that 5G technology is being supplied by China, a country whose government has so many human rights issues is one thing. And a government that uses big data and technology to control masses of people and their movement should certainly concern us. But this is almost a distraction from the bigger story of what is going on here.  

Governments like the US and UK are so desperate to get this technology because they see the economic benefits and the intelligence benefits it brings that they would sign up with anyone to get it. Maybe they even have more nefarious ideas of what to do with it, and this is what they want to learn from their Chinese counterparts.   

The critical issue that should be discussed is the use of 5G technology, how it will be regulated and how the use of people's data will be regulated.  

As the UK leaves the EU trade deals are up for negotiation, and so are our data privacy laws. The UK, on its own, has strong data privacy legislation made even stronger by the EU laws, including GDPR. These are certainly much stronger and more in favour of protecting the consumer than even in the US. But are these protections and safeguards up for sale with the new trade deals that are now on the table with the US and other countries? Is Boris willing to trade our data in return for something else? We are the commodity, the product, and yet we seem to have very little say in what is being done now and in the future with our data. Is 5G the Trojan Horse by which these somewhat right-leaning western governments of the world sell and control our rights?  

Maybe it's our fault for just accepting those terms and conditions as they get thrown at us. Or maybe it is our fault if we voted in a government that seems to care little for the average UK citizen and who are willing to lie and back step on every promise, they made in their pre-election manifesto in order to ensure the rich get richer and they gain more control over the public and the media.   

Stand Up for Your Data Rights 

The Open Rights Group, of whom I am a supporting member, wrote a letter to members of parliament on Data Protection Day, the 28th of Jan 2020, calling for the government to pledge that it will uphold data privacy standards in the UK.   

Read the letter here https://www.openrightsgroup.org/about/reports/data-protection-day-letter-to-members-of-parliament  

And the press release about it here https://www.openrightsgroup.org/press/releases/2020/government-must-pledge-to-uphold-data-privacy  

We are at a turning point in our history as the UK gets ready to leave the EU and with it may come a lot of challenges and changes in law along the way. Not all of these will be in favour of or to help the average person. For this reason, as we enter a new world of new trade deals, 5g technology and separation from the protective wing of the EU we, as UK citizens, need to be hyper-vigilant to what the government and big business is up to. We need to be aware of what these trade deals will mean, and we need to keep an eye out to protect the vulnerable who often get forgotten and left behind.   

Our data is already being bought and sold on mass by big business and the tech giants. We have already given away so much of ourselves to them that we need to start paying this more attention. Information is power, and when it gets to the point where a corporation or government knows more about us than we know ourselves. Their algorithms can process all of our data points at mind-blowing speed to predict our next actions, we need to understand the threat but also what great power we have when we withhold our data.   

written by Sam

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