Bartering, not Free

by | Apr 21, 2021 | ICT4D |


Consent assumes two or more equals are engaging. Equality of power is the foundation upon which it is built. But what happens if we make a different assumption? An assumption of inequality? Does that change the discussion?

When something is said to be free, there is no expectation of an exchange happening. The basket of fruit by my neighbour’s house with free apples requires no exchange other than me picking the apples from the basket. And yet, most things aren’t free that are marketed as such. Virtually everything on the web involves an exchange of data for content. And we are supposed to ‘consent’ to this happening. We are bartering data for access to information on the web – news, videos, papers, and so on. And we have become ok with this and so has the law. Mostly, I assume, because there is an assumption that I, as the consumer, can choose to get my news from CBC, BBC, ABC, or from somewhere else entirely. The assumption of equals is that I can choose. I have alternatives.

Now this argument skates on very thin ice when it comes to social media and monopolies, but that’s for another post.

However, when we distribute aid, it is supposed to be free, and yet we require an exchange of information for the aid. We are bartering too, not freely providing. This time, however, there is a different power dynamic occurring as there is no alternative choice for the recipient. It’s us or no aid.

And yet, we still call it consent.

And we rarely talk about our duty of care for those we seek to serve.

What if that was our starting point? What if we ask how do we best put those we seek to serve at the forefront of our thinking when it comes to data management? How would that change things?

I keep coming back to awareness and alternatives. Ensure there are realistic alternative choices for recipients to choose AND still receive aid. And ensure we improve their digital literacy and awareness of the value of their data.

What about you?

Photo by Nathan Dumlao


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