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Contribution : "Personal data's cultural stakes" by Nicole Lunardi, Sara Cicatiello and Chiara Bertamini

Nowadays, it seems natural for cultural organizations to incorporate digital means within their normal operations, particularly for what regards the contact with the public, the consumers’ experience and the audience development management. This new approach creates a great space for improvements, but to be efficient, requires a certain amount of information from the users. This means, in a certain way, a loss of privacy and the adoption of marketing tools more typical of banks than of cultural organizations. The discourse regarding the circulation of information is strongly related to their protection. Consider the copyright importance: going in depth within the sector of creative industries a huge difference emerges between those with a low level of copyright protection and those with an high level. The first ones, such as fashion and design, register an economic success which is higher than film, music and  book industries.

In the last  years the circulation of information concept started to involve more and more creative sectors. For example for what concerns the museums reality, some typical current questions related to the circulation of information problem are “is it possible to take pictures?", "should our entire collection be available on line?", "what is the real use of Internet potential within educational programs?" and “what do visitors want to see?”.

In this paper we will try to analyze the current situation adopting the users’ and firms’ perspective, investigating the grey space between transparency and privacy as well as the general relevance of open data within the cultural economics discourse.

1.   Users and firms current situation in the Big Data era

Although it may seem impossible to believe, we produce every day thousand of information using our electrical devices. Information are not only the ones that we consciously leave on the web, like those we share on social networks , but also those we are not aware of making public. Beyond the real identity, internet users have also a digital one suitable for all. As far as the digital identity concerns, the key word related seems to be “transparency”.

Consider for example our activity as Spotify user. The music streaming service is able to suggest to us all those “similar artists”  that we like keeping tracks of our listening data: if data show that people listening to a certain group like also another specific group, then the latter one will be in the first’s list of “similar artists”. The same mechanism happens when we read articles, when we look for books or when we collect information on a specific touristic destination: there’s a sort of “instigator” that works on the tracks we leave on the Web, voluntarily or not. All these tracks form a limitless Big Data archive, which in a way represents that the Web knows us almost better than we know ourselves and how it’s possible to exploit the data to give personalized advices, according to our preferences and habits.

If we use a search engine that registers our geographic position, the first results obtained are those geographically closer to us (try with a generic “weather forecast” on Google to verify that the first results given comprehend the weather of the place where we are at the moment of research). Considering also the newsletters we receive from the online booking portals that contain information about flights and hotels we are exactly interested in.

In other words, regarding our condition as internet users, it’s so relevant how much we receive from the Web thanks to the Big Data strategy. Continuous inputs and suggestions make our researches easier and faster, allowing to us to open our horizons and to become even more informed.
We don’t need to explicitly put a like on a Facebook page, to follow someone in particular on Twitter or to subscribe newsletter to be informed and kept-up to date on what we prefer.
It’s enough to surf on Internet to leave tracks of ourselves.  From the firms’ point of view, exploiting the cultural personal data means having a great growth potential as well as the possibility to obtain a certain competitive advantage. It’s a way to increasingly shorten the distance between firms and consumer-internet users, to deeply understand their needs, to be even more ready to match supply with demand and to have that extra oomph.

2.   Negative aspects

Everything seems so easy. We are describing a “world” where both the companies and the customers are always happy, where the supply is able to exactly answer to people’s needs and preferences, where it is sufficient to leave (often unconsciously) our tracks on the Web to get the inputs from firms that we were looking for. But the next step consists in analyzing the limits of cultural personal data collection, considering the Internet users’ privacy. Is it right that firms spy on users’ movements to create competitive advantage, even if the aim is also to make them happier and to give them what they want? Are we effectively willing to daily share our digital identity in order to see our wishes fulfilled?

Beyond the worry of being part of a new Orwell’s Big Brother world, what we would like to ask ourselves is more about the randomness and the pleasure of being surprised.
If from one hand we are so well guided thanks to the data collection, from the other the risk is to have everything pre-packed. This trend pushes us to look even more for such a boring certainty and linearity (then, not only in the virtual life).

Then, it has to be considered the other internet users’ role: while we are all more and more connected, how much are other people able to influence us? how much do they affect our  self-confidence? how much are they responsible of the losing of our identity? Moreover, what about the companies’ role and the trust the users have on them? The firms using the big data strategy seem to be our “new best friends”: they know who we are and what we want, they fulfill our wishes and make us happy. But sometimes it is too much, the firms go beyond the privacy respect.  Have you ever used hidden navigation when buying airline ticket in order to avoid being cheated on the price?  This is an example of feeling of being spied on.

3.   Personal data protection and the need of a common legal framework

It has become not only a commonplace but a new reality that people are truly convinced they are continuously and ambiguously controlled in their everyday life, no matter what channels they choose to use. Over the past decades, this kind of practice was recognized, perceived and condemned as a violation of the personal fundamental rights but nowadays the threat has become more and more sly and unperceivable, to the point where the boundary lines can be barely drawn. For some people, even the most predictable or thoughtless acts, such as those like sending an email or putting “I like it” on Facebook, can represent an abuse. And this is something we all should be afraid of (and we are), or at least aware of, but somehow it has become commonly accepted as something normal and given for granted.

And this is the point. We believe that since digital cultural data convey personal information, backgrounds, values, tastes and so on, which are part of the individual and his holy right of possession, they should be treated and considered in the same way as any other personal and individual right and property. The respect, as well as the privacy, of such rights must be guaranteed by the competent bodies who are in charge of intercepting and punishing any form of violation, transgression and trespass, in view of the importance of the interests at stake.

 In fact, we strongly support the idea that any digital footprint content represents a unique piece of intellectual property and only its owner has the right to choose about its fate, that is why any form of its exploitation should be distinctly stated. Indeed, companies should be clear about the way they process the information management in order to ensure each individual a certain level of data protection and insurance. This approach will raise awareness and responsibility on both side of the market and will be directly translated in more confident users. And more confident users are users who are likely inclined to spend more if the conditions are stated clearly from the beginning, so that everyone will be better off.

Anonymity must be guaranteed if requested by the owner without any reservation in the respect of his personality, his freedom and his willingness to be publicly exposed. We fully believe that a common legal framework is needed in order to protect and guarantee that these rights are respected and in order to spread  awareness and acknowledgement of such rights in our society.

4 - The market homologation could kill the "creatives"

Given these considerations, we think that the big challenge in the future of the creative industries will be to use the almost infinite amount of information available to consolidate and spread their identity, rather than change their offer according to the result of marketing researches. In other words, even if we all as a consumers can benefit from the personalization of cultural service, we think that creative companies should not adopt as a benchmark what the society wants (in other words, what is more successful of the market) but stick with their products and their ideas using the media to find who may appreciate them for who they are and what they do.

If creative companies will be able to balance this tension between market and their own identity, the society will benefit of a wide and heterogeneous cultural offer. They have to surprise the costumer once he is known better. Otherwise, the market homologation could kill the "creatives" and turn this sector in a simple services industry.

À propos de Nicole Lunardi, Sara Cicatiello et Chiara Bertamini

Students of the Graduate Degree in GIOCA program (Innovation and Organization of Culture and the Arts), University of Bologna.

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Sara Cicatiello

Nicole Lunardi