Chapter 03 - A responsible revolution now

Chapter 03

a responsible revolution now


Technology is developed with blinding speed, making it difficult for citizens and policy makers to keep track. Legislation, corporate responsibility, and demand are all important contributions to a sustainable digital future. In many aspects the European Union is leading the way within democratic tech, and Denmark is already making exceptional use of responsible technologies. We now have every opportunity to set the global standard for a more responsible digital world.

Outpaced by Technology

New digital technologies are developed at an unprecedented speed. Digital development has rapidly accelerated industry, and yet it still grows exponentially. Developers have enormous interest, and incentive, in bringing new solutions to the market. Such competitive force is optimal for maturing both the market and emerging technologies. However, competitive motivation may also hinder responsible development, because, among other things, competition encourages secrecy surrounding the development process rather than stimulating open source access. Competition also incentivises the collection of valuable (and often private) consumer data, as this enables optimization, and heightens both economic earnings and attraction of customers. As such, contribution to the common good is seldom a first priority. And though Danish companies have a great many obstacles competing with large, international tech-companies, we are entering a new era in which the responsible development and deployment of technology will be a competitive advantage.

Both legislators and the public have a hard time keeping up with the speed of the digital revolution. Policy makers are unable to operate ahead of development, just as citizens struggle to make informed choices about their digital consumption. It’s estimated that one fifth of Danish adults are currently digitally vulnerable . Only a minor group of tech enthusiasts follow the latest trends, and most Danes have never heard of technologies such as the metaverse, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and cryptocurrencies, which all contribute to the emerging digital world. The lack of knowledge regarding important new technologies is an economic, social, and democratic issue.

"I’m having a hard time keeping up with all the technology that is being developed these years"

Respondent in survey

Knowledge regarding new technologies

We still deal with the big tech business models, which don’t harmonize with the Danish values, because they build on collecting as much data as possible. What makes it even more difficult is the fact that the public authorities have problems with enforcement of the legislation, which actually has good intentions.

Anette HøyrupChief Legal Officer, Forbrugerrådet Tænk

from legislation to change

Basic individual and collective rights also apply to the digital space. Basic human rights are the foundation for human life and are every bit as vital in the digital sphere. Global society is currently developing legislation to secure individual and collective rights in the digital world. The European Union has long been a front-runner in terms of legislation in the digital space, securing human and collective rights while maintaining democratic principles.

The path from legislation to actual change in implementation, practice, and behavior is long. But experts point to the fact that ambitions and intentions in new EU legislation are excellent, and new legislation is paving the way forward. Legislation will always happen at a slower pace than technological development, but if politicians are able to maintain pace with development, legislation can establish ambitious sustainability standards for future digital products and services.

55% af the Danish population believe foreign tech companies should be met with more regulation. Only 7% disagree.

While GDPR-legislation is well intentioned, with good ideals, the application of many principles fails to take user behavior into account. Users rarely read the terms and conditions before accepting cookies or downloading apps. But platforms offering knowledge, tools, and entertainment act as if users are making informed consent when accepting terms and conditions. 54% of Danes state they never read the terms of use before downloading a new app. One explanation for this behavior is an imbalance in the way platforms function, as well as in understanding of the legislative ideals. Therefore, companies ought to seize the responsibility to lead users in the right direction.

"I think that there will be more and more challenges in relation to the technological development, where a lot of people can’t keep up. It’s hard to asses whether it solves more problems than it creates, but I think there is quite a few challenges, including data security"

Respondent in survey

So, who has the responsibility to tackle this imbalance? 33% of the Danish population trust that companies take sufficient action to ensure digital technologies contribute positively to society, 21% trust that politicians do enough, and 25% trust consumers do enough. 49% of the population believe politicians, companies, and consumers all have an equal amount of responsibility, but of the three groups, more people expect politicians to take responsible action. There is space yet to bolster the responsibility taken by all groups, and much work to be done in making people more aware of their digital behavior.

Trust in actors' actions regarding digital sustainability

Due to the rapid rate of development, legislators can only aim to be fast followers of technologic progress. Companies must take responsibility for any potential negative impacts, including parameters such as user privacy and control. For a long time, the mantra in tech development was ”move fast and break things”, first articulated by Mark Zuckerberg, now CEO of Meta . Certainly, there is a need for trial and error, because development processes are often linear with few possibilities for corrections, tests, and measurements. But perhaps the solution is to move thoughtfully such that positive impact overrules speed as a success parameter, while ensuring transparency in the design process and underlying code.

In the future, the need for technological specialists will be important, but making technological knowledge applicable, easily understandable, and relevant in a social and political context will be essential. It is fast becoming a competitive edge to lead the way towards greater transparency.

What we call consent online are actually pseudoconsent. When you have to install updates, digital services, apps and programs, we all consent to something, which we don’t actually read. On paper, we have the rights, but there is an imbalance. We are sharing a lot of data, but we have no control of what happens with that data. We are clicking ‘yes’ to statements we don’t know what means.

Anette HøyrupChief Legal Officer, Forbrugerrådet Tænk

Regulation In play today

  • Digital services act

    As the world becomes more and more digital, offline rules and regulations must also apply to the online world. The Digital Services Act (DSA) form a set of rules to create a safe and open digital environment with fundamental democratic rights, and to foster healthier competition, growth, and innovation among companies. The DSA determines the responsibility of online platforms when it comes to regulating illegal and harmful content, online advertising, and disinformation. The act ensures internet users' rights are protected, and that our European values permeate society online as well as offline.

  • Digital markets act

    The DMA is made to regulate the so called "gatekeepers" of the digital world. Gatekeepers are companies so big they control huge sections of online infrastructure i.e. search engines, online marketplaces, social networks and so on. Gatekeepers are unavoidable for internet users, and the DMA is a means to ensure no company gains too much market power but instead makes the market more contestable. The Commission made proposals on both acts in 2020 and in spring, 2022, political agreement was reached on both acts. Both acts entered into force in November 2022. The DMA will start applying as of 2 May 2023 and the DSA will be directly applicable across the EU from 17 February 2024. 


    Artificial intelligence (AI) is here to stay. Developers now know how to train machines to make human decisions based on data – and this raises the question of how we protect users' personal data. For the first time ever, the EU Commission has proposed a new legal framework on AI that addresses the risks on four different levels based on the degree of seriousness. This will give clarity for developers – and concurrently build trust among users. As this is the first legal framework on AI, Europe has come to play a leading role internationally.  The Commission presented the proposal in April 2021, and the Council and Parliament are currently negotiating their respective positions.


    An increasing number of people work through digital platforms. This often comes with many benefits for the worker (i.e. flexible working hours and low entry requirements), but in many cases the worker is regarded as self-employed and that implies limited access to labour protection (such as paid holiday, minimum wage, and parental leave) in most EU-countries. To address this issue, the Commission has presented a proposal for a directive on improving working conditions for platform workers to enhance a more social digital economy.  The proposal will now be discussed by the Parliament and the Council. After political agreement and entry into force, countries will have two years to adapt the directive to national law.

a Uniquely Danish Digital Export

Denmark is one of the most digitized nations in the world. 98% of the population is online, and the United Nations appointed Denmark as the world's most advanced country in terms of public digitalization in 2018 and 2020 . Denmark is in a unique position to take on a new digital design venture, establishing digital versions of Arne Jacobsen or Poul Henningsen in the process. But what will it take to create a new digital export based on Danish values and societal characteristics?

The combination of a highly cooperative tradition, high trust, and a high degree of digital implementation constitutes a unique position for Danish companies and the public sector, and ideal circumstances to lead the way for regenerative, democratic, and human-centric digitalization. Whether it be our work lives, public services, educational system, or health system, we have already embraced the first of responsible digitalization. Danish governments have made a concerted effort across various policies for increased digitalization. Most recently, the current Danish government has launched a Digitalization Strategy which includes new ambitious initiatives (. Former Finance Minister, Nicolai Wammen, stated, “Digitalization can make us richer, raise the quality of public services, free up labour, and accelerate the green transition. We must speed up development and maintain our strong focus” . The strategy is a step in the right direction for capitalizing on Denmark’s unique position – if we manage to consolidate, finance, and realise the ambitions.

In general, the digital labourmarket is not a revolution but an evolution. The development is slower than expected within this area, but it gives us time to have good dialogues. Our Danish collective agreements are a huge advantage, because they react way faster than legislation.

Anna IlsøeAssociate Professor at the Employment Relations Research Centre (University of Copenhagen)

The time is now for positively influencing the digital future around the world. There are increasing concerns surrounding the digital space and there is great demand for timely solutions that respond to some of the most urgent matters. We have a planetary crisis, a mental health crisis, and a trust crisis. It is impossible for future technology to be developed without taking these crises into account. Denmark is in a unique position to undertake a global leadership role in developing a sustainable digital future. We have the opportunity to capitalize on our well-regarded reputation for green technology. The key will be to leverage existing collaboration between government and industry, enterprise and citizenry.

We have to practice intelligent, evidence-informed policy-making. The administrative state has a different role today than earlier. We need to redesign the welfare state to become an active 'mission owner’ and facilitator of collective problem-solving. The state must play an active part in the development of new markets and solutions.

David BudtzKnowledge Broker for Algorithms Data & Democracy (Aalborg University)


digital products passport

Informing sustainable choices through trustworthy claims

The Digital Products Passport Initiative is initiated by the European Commission and is part of the proposed Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation and one of the key actions under the Circular Economy Action Plan. The digital products passport is being developed to become a EU-wide database which collects information about the level of sustainability of each product on the market.

Digital product passports will gather data on a product and its supply chain and share it across entire value chains so all actors – ie. consumers, policy makers, companies and investors – to give them a better understanding of materials, products, and their embodied environmental impact. According to experts, the passport will lead to increased transparency, traceability, consistency, innovative processes, resource optimization, more informed consumer choices, and sustainable investment choices.

In the short term, the initiative is expected to help companies generate new value and capture greater market shares, helping them provide trustworthy sustainability claims as they migrate to circular oriented innovation strategies. In the long term, this will position businesses in a favorable position when digital product passports become a legal requirement.

The proposal was published March 2022, and is now being discussed in Parliament and Council, and aims to be implemented from 2024.

Sources: Stretton, C. (2022), Sipka, S. (2022), EEB (2021) & University of Cambridge Institute for SustainabilityLeadership (CISL) and the Wuppertal Institute. (2022).

Chapter 04

Reaching critical mass

The digital value compassNavigating towards a new digital paradigm

We have identified a set of nine values needed for developing a truly sustainable digital society. These values constitute a value compass, which companies, organizations, politicians, and citizens can use to navigate towards a more sustainable digital future.