A new tech project, backed by the EU Horizon 2020 project, claims to have developed a solution to consumer concerns about who has control of their personal information; fears which have been exacerbated by the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Decode has been developed over the past three years by a consortium of 15 European partners, including UK innovation foundation Nesta, and is designed to let people decide who they share their data with, and on what terms.
Piloted in Amsterdam and Barcelona, Decode’s research and development effort has focused on new ideas to enable people to consciously share their data in an independent, secure and trusted way and donate it to improve public services as they see fit.
Those behind the project insist it has managed to strike a balance between protecting citizens digital rights and their data sovereignty, while at the same time leveraging the power of shared data to solve the most pressing problems, make better decisions and improve citizen participation.
The pilots have trialled innovative technologies including smart contracts, distributed ledger, free and open source and attributed based credentials.
Decode has enabled users to sign political petitions without having to reveal sensitive personal information as part of digital democracy platforms that engage thousands of people.
It has also meant they can share information on local social networking sites without fear of their data being manipulated and falling into the wrong hands, as well as share sensor data about noise nuisance and air pollution with their communities and council without security or privacy risks.
Finally, users have been able to prove their identity with a simple application without having to disclose sensitive information.
The focus of the project will now turn to scaling the implementation of the technology around Europe and the rest of the world.
Decode project co-ordinator Francesca Bria said: "Algorithms and big data should be used to serve citizens, improve public services and work conditions. This is why we urgently need to invest in technological alternatives that focus on citizens’ rights and create public value and not just profits for a handful of platforms.
"This project shows that it is possible to direct more investment in Europe towards next-generation decentralised and privacy-enhancing technology that can be scaled in cities across Europe."
Nesta chief executive Geoff Mulgan added: "Decode has been a pioneer in showing alternatives to the mass harvesting of personal data that has so often been neither transparent nor in the public interest.
"It is showing that we can give citizens more control over their data; that there is no need to hand over lots of personal data for everyday transactions as we so often do now; and that data can be used much more effectively to serve the public benefit."