Trying an idea – OMGDPR, a GPDR-themed event in Berlin

I’ve been following the passage of GDPR from ideas to law over the last couple of years, and I’m convinced its effects will be far reaching, and extremely disruptive to the industry I work in, but also any industry that collects and processes data around customers.

I started chatting with a friend Maik, and we’re now testing to see if there’s interest in an event around it, that we’re calling OMGDPR.

Okay, what is OMGDPR?

OMGDPR is the working title for an community-run, open space event, in Berlin in late March/early April for practitioners who build digital products or services, to learn from each other about GDPR will affect their organisation, and by extension, how they work.

Wait. You keep saying GDPR. What’s GDPR?

GDPR is the short name for the what’s being referred to as most the important change in data privacy regulation in 20 years, and stands for General Data Protection Regulation.

I’m going to cheat here and use wikipedia’s summary of the changes to the law:

“The proposed new EU data protection regime extends the scope of the EU data protection law to all foreign companies processing data of EU residents. It provides for a harmonisation of the data protection regulations throughout the EU, thereby making it easier for non-European companies to comply with these regulations; however, this comes at the cost of a strict data protection compliance regime with severe penalties of up to 4% of worldwide turnover.”[4]

The GDPR also brings a new set of “digital rights” for EU citizens in an age when the economic value of personal data is increasing in the digital economy.

The key takeaways are:

Wow, ‘threaten the existence of a company’? Now I’m interested.


The changes to the law arrived in late May, and they affect every company in the EU, but loads of companies, particularly smaller ones aren’t really prepared for it yet.

There’s also lots of FUD (Fear, uncertainty and doubt) around, so our intention was to create a space to let people talk about it in a relatively welcoming, safe, informal environment so they can see what they need to do if they haven’t had the time to think through a response to it.

Likewise, we’re hoping there will be a chance to learn from others who have had a chance to look into it, and would like to see more organisations treat personal data with the respect it deserves.

Okay, how do I find out more?

The easiest thing to do is try filling out the form below that we’re using to gauge interest – we’re aiming to run the event along open space principles, where people:

  1. bring the topics they’d like to discuss
  2. autonomously form into groups to discuss the topics that they are interested in
  3. report back what they learn for the rest of the group to reflect on or capture
  4. leave the event, with a clearer idea about what they might do

Here’s the form:

Okay, that’s it – if this interests you please give the form a go, and if there are typos or missing questions, do please let me know.










What if BPB ran service like for Germany?

We’ve had a number of elections in the last 18 months where digital has been cited as one of the key tools used by the winning party to win.

In the US, after the electoral upset of 45 being voted in, we saw a clutch of stories about the massive database used to suppress turnout among voters who would have typically have supported for Hilary instead.

In the UK, we’ve seen stories from the people running the leave campaign about how they did the same to send a colossal amount of personalised messages to get the leave vote out.

The problem with digital election campaigning – transparency

With mass communication like billboard ads, TV spots and and leaflets, there’s a chance for public discussion about what we consider acceptable, even if regulation in the UK on political adverts is pretty toothless. And there are sites like election leaflets that track what is being used to ‘sell’ a given party during elections.

But for digital, and one-off ads like the kind that are claimed to have swung recent elections there isn’t anything like this level of transparency,

Because messages are directed at individual voters, the only person who sees them is the voter. This makes it much easier for contradictory messages, or flat out lies to be used, and it’s much harder to challenge what’s being said. Tom Steinberg has written about this at length on

I think Google and Facebook should do this because they are companies that want to connect the world, not divide it. By showing which adverts are being shown to which parts of the electorate they can help expose situations in which parties and candidates are telling one group of people one thing, and another group of people the exact opposite. It may also help expose forms of campaigning based on hate that are actually outside the law, especially in a country like the U.K.

What can be done about digital

If Google and Facebook are billing clients for all these personalised ads, it’s difficult to believe that the data used for the ads being served doesn’t exist, and in the Steinberg post above, Tom explicitly challenges them to share this info:

What I want is this: I want Facebook and Google to show seasonal goodwill by voluntarily publishing data on the political adverts that are purchased on their platform and shown to users in the U.K. in the next six weeks.

To be more specific, I want:

  • A copy of each unique advert (e.g image/text/video)
  • Data on who this advert was targeted at (e.g everyone/only women/only people in London)
  • Data on how many people have been shown each advert
  • Information about who the buyer was

But this isn’t the only way this can be more transparent.

One bottom-up plan to make this more visible is the Who Targets Me project from the UK, to help shed some light on the kinds of ads being served via Facebook, and who is being targeted. There’s an election coming in Germany next month, and they’ve started over here too.

In Germany, institutions like the BPB, and their Wahl-o-mat exist to help inform the electorate about their choices.

We’re very lucky to have these in Germany, and I wonder if in 2017, they would be a good ally in helping make the digital side of elections more transparent as Tom suggests, using approaches like those shown by WhoTargetsMe.

Moreover in Germany, where campaigning is arguably less vicious than other places, and political parties aren’t already massively invested in ‘dark’ campaigns like this (and less likely to fight to keep them), it feels like it may be a good place to establish some conventions or precedents for responsible use of digital campaigning.

Before I realised they were already active in Germany, I was thinking of working on it at the coming Democracy Hackathon in Factory Berlin, and I’m still considering doing so.

If you’d be interested in doing so too, let me know in the comments, or get in touch – I list a number of ways on my personal site.