Back in the day, when it was still OK to meet in person, NIBE supported an inter-schools debate held at Brewin Dolphin’s offices in Newcastle and led by Emmanuel College. The motion debated was “Are data and tech companies a threat to our livelihoods, democracy and our very existence?” and several blogs were written by the students taking part. In this piece Jonathan Marran takes us through some of the arguments from that evening.

Social media and data harvesting companies play a large role society today and students around the country gathered at Brewin Dolphin’s headquarters in Newcastle in order to debate whether data companies’ power is a danger to society and democracy.

Those who believed these companies to be a threat made compelling arguments ranging from the fragility of data security and the negligence of these companies to the way that data is harvested without user’s explicit consent. Many students also cited the 2016 Presidential election as a prime example of how these data companies have the ability to sway democracy as targeted advertisements were used to cloud the judgement of many users which resulted in a divided nation where truth was a matter of perspective.

Proponents against the motion cited the benefit of these companies for services such as health diagnoses, they also discussed how society has itself to blame for its current position due to uniformed politicians, and the general consumerist society that has been created.

Social media has also helped engage young people with politics and has resulted in political discussions amongst a variety of age groups, in particular those who are below voting age.

Both sides made compelling arguments; however, arguments for the motion
carried the debate. It was made clear that despite their potential for good, large data companies have had an overall negative affect on society. Many speakers suggested ways of amending the market in order to help benefit society. These ideas suggested firms be much clearer and transparent on data collection so that users know what they are signing up for. Other ideas included monetising data so that consumers receive fair compensation for their information.

Thought provoking discussions were had amongst students and attendees on the future of the data industry and what people can do to ensure their data stays secure online.