One of the basic assumptions about man is that he is an independent, autonomous being within the rules and laws by which we live. As social beings constantly involved in a network of relationships with others, people must negotiate compromises, but in principle everyone is free and responsible for their own actions. But does this hold true in the age of progressive digitization? Increasingly, the former idea of the autonomously acting individual is replaced by that of a “relational self,” which, especially with regard to other people, is based on behavior in relation to habits. We could call this “modern network existence.” Of course, people already had to take into account other people and “higher authorities” before digitization. But these instances, understood a institutions of power, have changed. It is no longer primarily God, kings, and potentates who guide us, but rather institutions on the Internet that exert great influence on the thinking, opinions, and knowledge of many people.
We are no longer alone: this is the big, utopian promise of data and tech companies. We are constantly watching each other. We are no longer alone, but at the same time there is also the dystopia of the digital twin, the data shadow, which almost always accompanies us. We live in a kind of split existence. We are permanently evaluated and tracked and we behave accordingly. Human autonomy is gradually being transformed into a heteronomy. This has consequences. How free are we still?
“It only takes a few data points to de-anonymize anonymous profiles with 95 percent certainty.”