Stop clicking your rights away! – Digital New Deal Austria

by Lena Schnabel, Olivia Schretter, Anna Lammer, Agnes Wallner, Marie Lindheim , Annika Hader, Hannah Gudella

Imagine a friend telling you she just got into chiaroscuro, an art form you haven’t heard about. Wanting to support your friend’s idea, you go online and try to find information about this art, but the first, the second, the third article you click is only available if you fully accept the terms and conditions of the website. You go ahead, and click “accept all the cookies”; in this very moment, you just clicked your rights away.

Issue:

The main issue within growing digitalization is the lack of informed consent when it comes to data protection and privacy. It is kind of an open secret that BigTech companies built their empire upon the misuse of data.  A lot of terms of use, privacy policies and conditions are constructed as “click-wrap-contracts” which means that due to the length and complexity users don’t fully read these and just accept them (Zuboff, 2019). Some lawyers classify these contracts as “adhesive contracts”, as they force users to accept them in order to be able to participate, without letting them know about the content. In addition, the terms of use can be changed by the company at any time, without letting the user know about it (Zuboff, 2019).

In order to raise awareness for a Digital New Deal and especially to bring the power about their rights, data and privacy back to the people, education and knowledge is needed. This is why refunding in education through taxing BigTech is the goal we wish to achieve.
Firstly we will focus on Austria.       
In Austria the Digital Tax Act 2020 was implemented. As of January 1st. 2020, BigTech companies have to pay a 5% tax rate on online advertising revenues (Federal Ministry Republic of Austria, 2020). In 2020 a total of 43 Million Euros were paid by BigTech in Austria (Statistik Austria, 2021). In relation, Facebook’s total revenue through advertising in 2020 reached 84 Billion US Dollars (Borrett, 2021). Throughout the Covid-19 Pandemic the real winners have been BigTech companies. Researcher Scott Galloway claims that the monopoly position of BigTech companies (GAFA- Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) causes market failure, since these companies have gotten too large and powerful. He says that it’s time to revive the market by breaking apart BigTech, especially GAFA (Rest/de Souza Soares, 2019). Amazon for example, destroys competition in the free market by exploiting its employees and available resources. This results in destruction of the welfare state model.
Consumers, Healthcare, Politics, Schools, everyone has relied on BigTech companies. Taxes need to be raised accordingly and tax loopholes need to be sealed and prevented. Tax havens such as Ireland or Luxembourg should no longer permit BigTech companies to run their revenues through their systems.
Especially since BigTech companies benefit greatly from various forms of in-country tax-funded state aids, with which their online services could not even be realized. For example infrastructure or import, export regulations (OECD, 2014).

Aim and Objective:

Mainly our objective is to educate students in schools in Austria on data rights and usage in order to target our above mentioned issue. To do so implementing a digital tax on BigTech companies throughout the EU is necessary. As stated in the article of Tax Foundation some EU states (Austria, France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom) already did so (Asen, 2021). However, the structure of the digital tax in terms of what is taxed or the percentage of the tax varies greatly. Another objective of our project is therefore to develop EU-wide guidelines on designing the digital tax. In addition, the implementation of the digital tax should be enforced in all other EU countries to counter tax havens.
The taxation revenues will be refunded in education. Precisely workshops on data rights and usage and needed technical equipment are to be financed with these revenues. Furthermore, the teachers can’t be forgotten and need to be educated as well. Media Literacy can be taught in every subject as there is always a possibility of using digital sources for research. Learning which sources are trustworthy and which are not is very important. The latter will arise as a result of further training the teachers.    
Looking at the bigger picture, we want to redirect the power from the monopolistic BigTech company structure, which is built upon misuse of our data and unawareness of this exact matter, back to us. With giving the students their power over their data back, the monopoly of BigTech isn’t over yet. Another crucial aim of ours is to reform the data usage conditions of BigTech. Educating people on their digital rights reduces their willingness on accepting cookies which takes away the power from BigTech. Simply said, we are aiming at preserving people from clicking their rights away.

Tactics and Methodology:

Social media. In order to attract attention and be visible on social media, we will set up an Instagram channel. We use the channel to publish our demands, present our research, and explain the issue of data usage through info posts that everyone understands our initiative. Why do we choose the Instagram format and not write down our demands and explanations collectively, as in the already published DND information material? Our target group is mainly young people who go to school, whom we can reach mainly through social media. The data education should be easy to understand, so that every student can follow along and apply what they have learned in their everyday use of digital media. Name of the channel: @acceptingcookies

Streetwork and cookies. What does it actually mean when I click on „accept cookies“ every time I open a new website? To target people’s lack of knowledge and to create awareness for data collection processes, we hand out edible cookies, the ones we all love, to passers-bys on the street. The only problem is that one can only read the ingredients on the packaging in small letters. An endless small text, written in such a way that nobody wants to read it, and probably won’t even understand it. On the packaging is the question: Accept the cookie?/Know your cookie! We want people to have a real life experience through the non-readable ingredients. Through our edible cookies, we want to link to our Instagram page so that potential participants in our petition can get a first contact with our demands and further information.

Online Petition. We will launch an online petition with which we underline our advocacy for the need of transparency concerning data rights and usage as well as the change in taxation of Big Tech and funding of educational projects. The online petition allows us to raise public awareness for our issue and find supporters of the austrian people for our cause. The growing number of supporters will help us situate our project in the political realm.
1000 Tweets to Blümel and Fassmann for political awareness. In addition to the online petition, we will send 1000 Tweets to the minister of finance Gernot Blümel as well as 1000 Tweets to the minister of education Heinz Fassmann during the week of digital transformation, from March 8th to March 14th 2022. We not only want our project to become visible to politicians, but more so we want Blümel and Fassmann to understand the urgency for a transformation of the current digital infrastructure in order for them to take action.

Call for collaboration. We advocate for a collaboration space in which researchers, teachers and politicians can debate on reforming the taxation process of BigTech in Austria as well as educational workshops concerning data right, usage of data and BigTech in Austrian schools.

Cooperation with “Mission Liftoff”. To actually bring our topic to schools, we will cooperate with the Austrian start-up „Mission Liftoff“.  Mission Liftoff is an online platform where teachers can download ready-made lesson plans about digital, social and environmental challenges (Mission Liftoff, n.d). They also organise workshops at schools. DND Austria wants to focus on data rights and usage and also on local alternatives to BigTech companies and online shops. It is important for us to work with Mission Liftoff to collect and discover examples of teaching concepts. As we will be in constant exchange, we will get feedback from schools and lesson designers on how the topic resonates with young people.

Who is our audience ?

First we will target the Austrian Ministry of Finances, more precisely the minister of finance Gernot Blümel. In the course of the interaction we would like to address the topics of digitalization and taxation also with cabinet chef Daniel Varro and referee Lilly-Marie Kunz (department of tax law and tax policy). Also talks with the referees for European economic and financial policy Maria Glaser-Steiner and Michael Buchner would be very important because right now we focus on Austria but the topic is also very relevant on EU level (Bundesministerium Finanzen, 2021). Secondly we will target the Austrian ministry of Education, here too the first one to target would be minister of education Heinz Fassmann. Following up we would like to address our policy brief with the section of digitalization, equality and diversity management with chairwoman Iris Rauskala but also with the section of  human resource development with chairwoman Margareta Scheuringer (Bundesministerium Bildung, Wissenschaft, Forschung, 2020).
Through our different innovative tactics and methodologies we should be able to get a grip on all of these influential persons and maybe even have sparking conversations with them (see tactics and methodologies). On the 17th June 2020 chancellor Sebastian Kurz and the ministry of education presented an 8-point plan for digital education for Austrian schools till 2023 (Bundeskanzleramt, 2020). Certainly the supply of digital education infrastructures and the uncompromising endowment with end devices for every student is a big step forward but we do not only want a digital infrastructures – no, we want the students to understand the infrastructure, the bigger picture and the backgrounds to digitalization and data security. That will only work if the ministry of finance and the ministry of education is open to work on this together but also cooperate with innovative education projects like Mission Liftoff. There are more innovative projects and associations who could profit but also contribute so much from merging their powers with the ministries such as the Vienna Data Science Group (VDSG). Their mission is to establish a platform for knowledge exchange between data professionals and data enthusiasts to enable more persons to understand risks but also to see opportunities.      
The third part of our audience would also be the biggest profiteers – the students and the teachers. We want to put all the work into education, because if change begins somewhere, it starts in our heads. We need knowledge to understand and challenge big data questions and we want to spread that knowledge so that everyone has as easy as possible access to it.

Who are we ?

We are a DigitalNewDeal Team with focus on Austria that wants to target politicians, educators and students to gain knowledge about data security instead of giving our data rights away to BigTech.

Principles:

One of our main principles is to provide transparency and accountability. This means to point out which personal data is actually collected and make the users understand the algorithmic systems (Picard/Pickard, 2017, p. 10). Without transparency it is not possible to undo the addressed problem of data misuse because firstly one has to get informed about what actually happens to their data on the internet to do something against it. An important principle is the protection of users, especially children. It is necessary to protect consumers of state surveillance concerning personal privacy and data security (Picard/Pickard, 2017, p. 9). Another big point for us is to provide universal access for everybody who is interested in our work. Therefore we would like to share our findings in many different ways, for example on social media, in workshops at school etc. so no one is excluded when it comes to accessibility to our project.

Bibliography

Asen, E. (2021). What European OECD Countries Are Doing about Digital Services Taxes. Tax Foundation. Abgerufen von https://taxfoundation.org (04.05.2021).

Borret, A. (2021). Consensus is emerging on how to tax Big Tech. Tech Monitor, Abgerufen von https://techmonitor.ai/leadership/strategy/consensus-emerging-on-taxing-big-tech-companies (05.05.2021)

Bundeskanzleramt (2020). Bundeskanzler Kurz: Bildung muss stärker an der Schule stattfinden. Abgerufen von https://www.bundeskanzleramt.gv.at/bundeskanzleramt/nachrichten-der-bundesregierung/2020/bundeskanzler-kurz-digitalisierung-muss-staerker-an-der-schule-stattfinden.html (05.05.2021).

Bundesministerium für Bildung, Wissenschaft und Forschung (2020). Geschäfts- und Personaleinteilung. Abgerufen von https://www.bmbwf.gv.at/Ministerium/GuP.html (05.05.2021).

Bundesministerium für Finanzen (2021). Zentralleitung Geschäfts- und Personalleitung. Abgerufen von https://www.bmf.gv.at/ministerium/aufgaben-und-organisation/zentralleitung.html (05.05.2021).

Federal Ministry Republic of Austria. Finance. (2020). Digital Tax Act 2020. Abgerufen von https://www.bmf.gv.at/en/topics/taxation/digital-tax-act.html (05.05.2021)

Mission Liftoff (2021). Abgerufen von https://www.missionliftoff.com/#warum (05.05.2021).

Picard, R. G. & Pickard, V. (2017): Essential Principles for Contemporary Media and Communications Policymaking. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. University of Oxford.

OECD. (2014). Addressing the tax challenges of the digital economy. OECD Publishing. Abgerufen von http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/taxation/ addressing-the-tax-challenges-of-the-digital- economy_9789264218789-en (05.05.2021)

Statistik Austria. (2021). Österreichs Steuereinnahmen berechnet nach dem Europäischen System der Volkswirtschaftlichen Gesamtrechnungen. Abgerufen von https://www.statistik.at/web_de/statistiken/wirtschaft/oeffentliche_finanzen_und_steuern/oeffentliche_finanzen/steuereinnahmen/index.html (05.05.2021)

Vienna Data Science Group. (2021). Abgerufen von https://viennadatasciencegroup.at (05.05.2021).

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