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Towards a new reality: Taking back control of our online identities

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides individuals with increased control over how their personal data is collected and used online, but more can and should be done to ensure that individuals are able to take back control of their online identities, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) said yesterday, as he published his Opinion on Personal Information Management Systems (PIMS).

Giovanni Buttarelli, EDPS, said: “Our online lives currently operate in a providercentric system, where privacy policies tend to serve the interests of the provider or of a third party, rather than the individual. Using the data they collect, advertising networks, social network providers and other corporate actors are able to build increasingly complete individual profiles. This makes it difficult for individuals to exercise their rights or manage their personal data online. A more human-centric approach is needed which empowers individuals to control how their personal data is collected and shared.”

The recently adopted GDPR provides for increased transparency, powerful rights of access and data portability, giving individuals more control over their data. However, it is not the final step in this process. Instead, it should be seen as the foundation for further efforts to improve how we enforce control over our online identities.

In his earlier Opinion on coherent enforcement of fundamental rights in the age of Big Data, published on 23 September 2016, the EDPS noted that current market conditions and business practices make it difficult for individuals to exercise their right to the protection of personal data and to other fundamental rights. In his Opinion on PIMS, the EDPS outlines his vision of a new reality, in which individuals, rather than online service providers, are able to manage and control their online identity.

The basic idea behind PIMS is that individuals would be able to store their personal data in secure, online storage systems and decide when and with whom to share it. As an emerging technology, a variety of designs and business models currently exist. However, they all share idea of strengthening fundamental rights in the digital world, whilst creating new business opportunities for PIMS providers, who would act as intermediaries between the individual and the online services they use. 

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