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Report - Personal data, a cultural issue

“La data… et moi, et moi, émois”[1]. With such a title, the INfluencia review (April-June 2014) sets the tone of the debates that liven up the civil society, companies and states on the data issue.

What about the data’s cultural dimension? Are personal cultural data a separated phenomenon? Should it be handled in the same way as any other data? This report presents the proposals and works made by and for the Forum d’Avignon on the cultural dimension of personal data.

Personal data, cultural data

The data – breathtakingly numerous, regardless of their nature, personal or open to all – constitute the real black gold of the XXIth century. As the com
ponents of our digital identity, the cultural personal data, that is to say all the details, traces (exhibitions, films, series, lyrics, next tourist destination, readings, news websites, shows...) and contents (photos, videos, writings...) that we leave on commercial and non-commercial websites, search engines, social networks, define us and reflect, while we are not necessarily aware of it, our personality, our tastes, our aspirations, our concerns, our private life, our Digital DNA. In droves, the data feed speculations and demand all our attention.

Technical or cultural issue ?

Often confined to the technical aspect, the use of cultural data is primarily a political and ethical issue through its effect on private life, cultural creation and works’ prescription, diversity and identity. What about the convention on cultural diversity by UNESCO: when will it include a digital part? For some people, the use of data is seen as a violation of freedom or creation, for others, their enhancement is a potential for growth and for creation of economic and artistic value. All agree on the importance of clearly defined ethical conducts.

“The question of whom [personal] data belongs to will be one of the key policy issues of the future.” In his open letter of 16 April 2014, Mathias Döpfner, Chief Executive Officer of the Springer publishing group, sent a message to all the players concerned. The think tank of the Forum d’Avignon and its partners, who met on 19 September 2014 during the Forum d’Avignon @Paris, the first cultural forum 100% Data, discussed four issues: ethics, fairness, the transparency of the State and public authorities with regard to the sharing of data, and the opening-up of networks and infrastructures to make our towns and cities even smarter.

What were the results of the first Forum d’Avignon @Paris? First, a collective awareness: the use of personal data is a key issue in terms of civilization and culture. This awareness must be used to build a society that is aided – not driven – by data. Second, a concrete proposal: the definition of a universal, proactive, ethical framework that achieves a balance between research, economic and social development, and the protection of personal data.

Both ambitious and realistic, our proposal is neither regulatory – each state or continent must form its own laws according to its own culture – nor technical – technological developments, even when self-regulated, are such that any digital constraint or protection is doomed to become obsolete. Indeed, the answer also lies in ethics.

To learn more about the Forum d’Avignon@Paris, click here !

To learn more about the Declaration of the Digital Human Rights, click here !

The Forum d’Avignon wants to question this decisive cultural and economic issue of great importance for the future: a true political challenge that needs the commitment of all the players – today.

Download the report


1. The beliefs of the Forum d’Avignon
2. Preliminary Declaration of the Digital Human Rights 
3. Two years of works and contributions
4. Studies of the Forum d’Avignon
5. Appendices

A. Legal framework
B. Selective external bibliography
C. Glossary
D. Watch the debates of the Forum d’Avignon
E. Experts and contributors (2014)

Note to readers: any comment, remark, amendment, perspective or addition is welcome.

1 This is a pun based on the very similar sound of the words “et moi” and “émois”, which could be traduced “Data, and me, and me… emotion”.