Writings on what makes Europe and the world tech

Digital self determination index – a proposal to measure contentment with the state of the internet

To measure progress by governments and companies towards digital sovereignty in the EU a clear metric has to be relied on. This is where the digital self determination index comes in.

Today the digital sovereignty discourse includes values which stand for making the digital compatible with the European way of privacy, openness, and respect. As new types of addressable issues or threats emerge, digital sovereignty will continue to expand and so will the finish line with it.

In addition to values, the debate also revolves around digitisation, security and strategic autonomy. While the unit for measuring improvements in these fields can be represented in monetary and market valuation as well as uptime or process proliferation terms, the values part of digital sovereignty is more difficult to measure.

Digital self determination index

It is a score and includes several criteria. Some of these can probe for data security and control, online privacy and safety or harmful content in a manner similar to other social or economic surveys that are conducted on a global scale. In fact, some of these topics are already covered in relevant Eurobarometer, Pew Research and other reports.

The index can, and should, incorporate new issues as they emerge. For example, misinformation or online fake news from 2016 onwards, grid and enterprise targeting cyber attacks from 2020 (although DDoS and other forms started taking place earlier).

Another set of additions can be smart and autonomous objects later on or delegation of identity credential custodianship to private companies (as with Apple’s new update).

This is imagined as a governmental effort but companies working in the fields of conscious tech, be it online privacy, better content, empathetic gig economy or others, can take part too.

Similar to the World Happiness Report companies can ask their customers to think of a ladder, with the best possible internet for them being a 10, and the worst possible being a 0 – and at the end to rate where a company helps them stand.

My hypothesis is that the switch to Web 3.0 digital economy, and companies currently working in its principles, will result in higher scores.

Calling it a digital self determination index is meant to stress the necessity and ability to control one’s representation in the digital world and the direction the internet is heading to.

Perhaps there is a better name for it (involving sovereignty, autonomy or perhaps straightforward internet happiness) and hopefully this will become apparent as my research evolves.

Why measure?

In short: to identify and replicate steps in the right direction by empowering and involving individual users. Starting this now is good for two reasons. There are many problems with creating new metrics or letting only numbers speak and hopefully the following two pieces will offer some clarification.

In “A tale of two cybers” the authors talk about the production of knowledge about cyber threats. Their premise is that the majority of the information reported revolves around a small number of threats that go after an equally small number of high profile targets omits the threats posed to civil society organisations (and by extension individuals and the rest of society) due to the absence of commercial gain. This results in disproportionate focus on investments in areas that, while important, leave out parts of society unprotected.

A Digital Maginot Line – by Stanford's Renee DiResta – is what might happen if/when this focus is misplaced. The author talks about the politically destabilising misinformation campaigns that took place despite heavy scale investments in cyber operations and other measures to prevent interference.

In the case of digital sovereignty, measuring it on an individual level will expand the agency of this pursuit and empower internet users in Europe. Our market, regulatory and other instruments are meant to improve the lives of people online and the index will explain, down to the user level, by how much, against what and in which time period.

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