Dominik Mohilo is an editor and IT expert at the Munich-based communications consultancy PR-COM, which mainly supports tech companies. (Source: PR-COM)
6. Jun 2024

Digital compulsion, no thanks

Author: Dominik Mohilo, editor and IT expert at the Munich-based communications consultancy PR-COM

My father is a pensioner – and he has money problems. Fortunately, this is not due to a moderately full account. No, he simply doesn’t know how to manage his account: More and more bank branches are disappearing, and ATMs aren’t really reliable either. The solution seems as banal as it is simple: online banking. And this is exactly where the problems begin.

He is one of many who are at risk of being left behind by the brave new digital world because they feel insecure with new technologies or are skeptical about them. When it comes to online banking, for example, some are simply overwhelmed by two-factor authentication, which is not always easy to set up. Others, on the other hand, fear for the security of their accounts. No wonder, as phishing attacks are still on the rise – and artificial intelligence is even helping cyber criminals to send deceptively real emails and text messages in order to steal valuable log-in data. Incidentally, it’s not just pensioners like my father who fall for scammers, but also enough people who consider themselves “tech savvy”. So the fear of data security is not entirely unfounded. Online and digital services are also a thorn in the side of anyone who wants to protect their personal data not only from hackers, but also from companies. And rightly so: there are almost daily reports of apps from supposedly reputable providers that spy on us.

So there are plenty of reasons to do without digital services – but the alternatives are increasingly lacking, especially when it comes to “systemic” services. Anyone who thinks it stops at online banking is very much mistaken. The postal service, railroads and public administration are also increasingly relying on services that cannot be used at all without basic technological training and a fairly high degree of generosity with regard to personal data. As people like my father can hardly use more and more indispensable services in analog form, a digital compulsion is emerging. Of course, players such as the railroads, banks, public authorities and the former Bundespost are to blame for this. But we digital natives in particular have exacerbated this situation by demanding more digitalization in Germany. In our ignorance – or to put it more kindly: progressiveness – we all too often forget about those who are not coping so well with the digital age or have legitimate concerns about their data.

Thank goodness for politics. It may sound ironic at first, but it certainly deserves praise on Digital Day, which is being celebrated nationwide today. In the course of the celebrations, numerous state representatives are speaking out; after all, they seem to have recognized part of the problem. One reads: “Teaching digital skills is […] becoming increasingly important – regardless of age”. A good approach, but one that only addresses part of the problem. Making digitalization barrier-free and providing all age groups with the necessary skills is all well and good. For this commitment alone, politicians deserve an A+ with an asterisk. But that is not enough, because, as I said, there are not only citizens whose digital skills need to be improved. The government must also pick up those who place their right to anonymity and the protection and security of their personal data above the convenience of digital services.

In this respect, we have also proven in the past that we can do digitalization if we want to. This was demonstrated, for example, by the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation, with which the EU and the German government showed that they take data protection seriously and can implement it legislatively. Politicians should internalize precisely the same mindset when it comes to combating the rampant digital compulsion – not least because it reduces the concept of data protection to absurdity. What we therefore need now is a two-track approach. On the one hand, digitalization should of course not fall by the wayside – on the contrary. In this context, it is particularly important to focus on securing digital services and protecting users’ personal data. On the other hand, it is just as important to continue providing established analog services so that no one is left behind. Digitalcourage e.V. has launched an initiative to enshrine this “right to life without digital constraints” in the German constitution. True to the motto: Digitalization yes – digital coercion? No, thank you …