Taylor Davidson · DLD 2014

Munich, Germany
by Taylor Davidson · 20 Jan 2014
Munich, Germany

DLD, a global conference about digital innovation, science and culture, brought together over 150 speakers and 1000 attendees to their 10th annual event. DLD is a kind of “pre-Davos”, an interesting mix of executives and leaders from technology companies in Europe, Israel and the US.

Last year the big conversation I picked up on was about data, and this year, it was similar, but the conversation was more evolved. The theme for DLD 14 was “content and context”, and brought together conversations about the platforms creating data (mobile, social, sensors, hardware), the technologies to structure and understand data (artificial intelligence, machine learning), and the products that structure content into context.

Befitting a European conference, the tenor around data and privacy is a bit different than the US. The EU has an explicit cookie law that requires visitors to a European website to be prominently notified of the site’s cookie policy and how their data is used, which coupled with the surveillance programs of some EU countries, creates a bit more public awareness and (I think) a bit more nuanced debate about privacy.

It’s not a simple debate. Privacy is a cultural context that changes over time. As Albert Wenger pointed out in his talk, the exact parts of data about us that we feel need to be private changes over time and contexts. Privacy is a modern concept (late 1800s according to Albert), and in my opinion it’s under a new stress at the moment created by the rise of platforms that allow anyone to create data, and give many the ability to track all the data being created. Benefit, and cost. But can individuals make consistent and rational cost-benefit analyses about how every bit of their data is used? Can data be anonymized and still carry enough personal characteristics to make it valuable? (Albert argues no, and others agree.) Can businesses and governments be trusted to handle massive amounts of personal data given their own business models and self interests?

Unlikely. We’re still in the discovery age of data. We’re still creating new ways for data to be created and shared. We’re building new technologies to structure, understand and leverage data everyday. And in the process, we’re creating new contexts for society, culture, business and government to debate. There is no one “right” answer today or tomorrow. In the absence of an immutable right answer, the important thing is to be an engaged, active participant in the debate, because the issue of data, privacy, and control is going to be a driver of progress in the information age.

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A couple other talks I enjoyed: Arianna Huffington and Paulo Coelho talking about mindfulness, Jan Koum giving a rare fireside chat about WhatsApp, a fireside chat about the Internet of Things, and Eli Pariser talking about Upworthy.

Watch more videos from DLD here.