A clear majority of Swiss people voted against the e-ID in a public vote. Private corporations providing digital solutions should take note of the vote, as there are lessons to be learned.

It was supposed to be a big win for digitalization in Switzerland: Swiss citizens voted on the e-ID, but the thing is this: They don’t want it. At least not if it’s powered by private corporations, not even if the government regulates it. In the public vote, 64,4% of Swiss citizens rejected the e-ID proposal. In absolute terms, 1.7 million Swiss rejected it, 0.9 million agreed. A clear vote!

In 20 cantons, 60-70% of people voted with no. In Basel-city and Waadt the most people were against the proposal, more than 70% each, while the results were less clear in Tessin (55% no votes), Zug (59% no votes), and Nidwalden (59% no votes). Observes said it wasn’t even that surprising that people rejected the proposal, but it was more surprising that so many people rejected it.

The vote is primarily a sign of mistrust against private corporations

So is the e-ID dead, a vote against digitalization? Not at all; in fact, surveys show most people are actually in favor of the e-ID. However, what people don’t want is private corporations running the system. The concerns about data privacy and data mishandling are too big. The people believe identification matters should remain in the hands of publicly elected representatives.

An analysis of the institute gfs.bern confirms the rejection of private corporations being in charge of the e.ID. Data privacy has recently received more attention by the public, fueled by the many data scandals recently uncovered at companies like Facebook. “Insecurity about the behavior of private corporations and doubts about the actual necessity of an e-ID were the main reasons for the outcome of the vote,” says gfs.bern.

Mistrust against private companies’ data policies may be the main reason for the rejection of the proposal, but it’s not the only reason. There also has been growing mistrust against public institutions after the sometimes questionable handling of the COVID-pandemic. gfs.bern writes, “The e-ID was rejected because of a mix of technology-scares, security concerns, mistrust against private corporations, and a general doubt that it is actually useful.”

Businesses can learn from the outcome

The vote shows several things: First, firms (or governments for that matter) that provide digital solutions need to prioritize data security and privacy. People are increasingly aware of how their private data is being handled and do care more than ever. No company will in the future be able to scale a product that doesn’t address these concerns, at least not in Switzerland.

Second, digitization is not going to work if people don’t accept it. Even the best and most high-tech solutions won’t enter the market if they don’t address a real need and if people don’t understand how they can benefit from it. Thus, consumer education will become much more important for companies offering digital products.

Lastly, it also shows that private corporations need to brush up their image. Transparency might help; businesses should show people what they actually do with their data. An app should be made so that the developers would be comfortable if their kids are using it.

All of that said, the e-ID isn’t dead. But it will need adjustments before the people accept it.

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