Sigmar Gabriel : Political consequences of the Google debate

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For a long time now it has been obvious that the many smartphones, now considered to be an essential attribute of everyday life, are permanently “observing” our movements, documenting our behaviour (and not only our communication behaviour), evaluating these and sending them to gigantic computer centres. The seemingly harmless miniature machines in the inside pocket of our jackets and coats have developed a life of their own. The term “search machine”, as used to describe Google, is a misconception, because it is not an instrument that we operate passively, like a tool in the “real”, analogue world. It’s an instrument that becomes active all of its own accord, and in a way which is imperceptible for us.

Every time we “search” for something on Google, Google searches us and captures information about ourselves which can not only be sold for targeted personalised advertising, but is, essentially, also available to our bank, our health insurance company, our car or life insurance company, or – if the need arises – to the secret service. There’s no such thing as a free lunch – we pay for these services with our personal data – and, unless we are careful, at the end of the day with our personal and social freedom as well.

Taming data capitalism

The same principle applies to “smart driving”, “smart home”, “smart” clothing, indeed to this entire infiltration of our everyday lives. Consumer products have lost their innocence. Every time we touch one of these products or devices we activate a digital echo, create feedback to the data storage facilities that are beyond our control and are gradually making us totally readable. “I read and am read. I buy and become a product,” Frank Schirrmacher writes in his call on social democratic circles not to ignore this radical social revolution.

It is the core task of liberalism and social democracy to tame and restrain data capitalism gone wild, without robbing it of its innovative power and its individual and social advantages, and to retain the dignity and freedom of humanity while creating equal opportunities for all to share and participate in social processes.

The current series on the digitisation of society and the economy which the F.A.Z. launched last summer as a reaction to the Edward Snowden affair has made a tremendous contribution to throwing light on what can be expected in this uncharted territory, technically, economically, in the consumer society and our everyday lives, but above all in our demand for freedom and democracy, for it is precisely this demand which a new super power of data corporations and secret services is challenging – especially if they cooperate with each other.

The contributions made in this series are a milestone in the political feature genre and have for the first time in many years re-established a contemporary political cohort which discusses the most existential of all political questions: How do we wish to coexist in the future? The debate revolves, so to speak, around the most important “Observations” on “the Spiritual Situation of the Age” – as expressed by the title of the famous collection of social criticism essays published by Jürgen Habermas at the end of the 1970’s.

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