Digital sovereignty

Digital sovereignty is rooted in the concept of consumer sovereignty as a regulatory goal of consumer policy. The aim is to empower consumers to navigate markets independently and autonomously. Given that every area of our lives is permeated by digital technology, the Advisory Council for Consumer Affairs sees digital sovereignty as a key element of consumer sovereignty.

The Advisory Council has fed these views into an ongoing debate where, while recognised as an important concept, interpretations of digital sovereignty may vary. The Advisory Council therefore provides a definition of digital sovereignty and delimits this from other terms (e.g. data economy, data protection) and existing concepts. Furthermore, the Council translates its knowledge into consumer policy approaches:

Combining digital literacy, technology and regulation are key to self-determination in the digital world.

Digital literacy is not just about acquiring the skills to cope in a digital-media environment; it also requires consumers to make informed, autonomous decisions on how to handle their own data. This includes an awareness that people produce data in the first place, as well as an insight into which data these are, how they are produced and how they are used and processed. Last but not least, consumers must be aware of how much their data are worth. This knowledge influences consumer decision-making in terms of how many footprints they are prepared to leave in the digital world – and under what conditions (data sovereignty).

Current and future technological developments will play a major role in determining the amount of digital sovereignty consumers enjoy. They may be restrictive or empowering. Such developments include default settings in software and apps, tools and applications for consumers to protect their data and review privacy settings, and systems and services in the Internet of Things that collect and analyse consumer data. While technology is becoming a tool for regulation, state regulation of technology has a key impact on levels of digital sovereignty.

As a guide for policy-makers in tackling these issues, the Advisory Council for Consumer Affairs is preparing a Digital Sovereignty Report with recommendations for action in the fields of digital literacy, technology and technology-focused/based regulation.

The report was published in June 2017.