Privacy and Identity in Digital Transformation

Is there still a chance for effective data protection or has privacy long been doomed to failure? ITA expert Stefan Strauß dealt intensively with these questions in his new book and argues: "Despite digitalization, privacy is not only possible, but more necessary than ever. But we must rethink data protection governance and create the conditions for it."

Privacy has become a highly endangered commodity in the digital networked society. Even one year of the General Data Protection Regulation has not been able to make much of a difference. But how and through which developments did this happen? And how can society deal with it?

Growing identifiability as a basic problem

A wealth of technologies collect data on a daily basis that provide deep insights into life circumstances and thus personal identity. Every time a technology is used, new forms of information are created that have long since been processed automatically. Big data and artificial intelligence seem to favour all-encompassing monitoring. However, there is a lack of new knowledge about how and why privacy is endangered and which factors cause this across technologies. According to Stefan Strauß, growing identifiability is the basic problem. "In a sense, it has become normal to be identifiable at any time through digital information of all kinds."

In his new book "Privacy and Identity in a Networked Society" Strauß shows why this is so. "We need a stronger focus on the nature and dynamics of identification mechanisms, i.e. how identity information is created and processed. This sounds trivial at first, but a closer analysis reveals important new insights for a more effective data protection".

Information dynamics with consequences

Instead of warning against further erosion of privacy with every new technology or leaving protection to those affected, Strauß needs new concepts and more knowledge about identifiability and the importance of identity information. To this end, Strauß proposes a new framework for systemic data protection impact assessment in order to better analyse the dynamics of digital information flows and the associated data protection risks. "We need to capture more systematically not only personal but also technology-related identity information. The framework concept presented in the book is theoretically and practically relevant for rethinking digital privacy and privacy-by-design and contributes to the development of more effective protection concepts".

Read more

Strauß, Stefan (2019): Privacy and Identity in a Networked Society: Refining Privacy Impact Assessment. New Security Studies, London/New York: Routledge.


Stefan Strauß conducts research at the interface between computer science and society, in particular on privacy, security, surveillance and digital identity. Currently he is working on the topics Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. (Photo: ITA/Walter Peissl)