I have been thinking lately about what it takes to have corporations start seriously thinking about data ownership from the point of view of the people who provide the information.
What would it take for an entity, whose business model mainly depends on the self-proclaimed rule - "we store your data, so we own your data", to give up some control (and revenue)?
The idea that the owners of the "means of production" would claim that they own "all raw material given to them" is ridiculous in any other field. However, it is acceptable in the IT industry - a discussion I will have in another blog.
Back to the main thought - How to get businesses to play fair with the people who give them data?
Last week, Gartner hinted to the possible answer and our possible future.
In their special report examining the trends in security and risk, Gartner predicted that 90 percent of organizations will have personal data in IT systems they don't own or control.
This prediction hints to a future where corporations are losing money and control of their revenue stream - data. It is only a matter of time before corporations figure out that when they provide data to other companies that provide a service to them, the service provider should share the revenue they get from using the gifting company's data.
So, I am optimistic that corporations will see the value of creating a data ownership ecosystem - as a matter of self-interest and survival.
I am sure they will market it as being for the benefit of the regular Web user.
However, I am less hopeful that the claimed benefit of this ecosystem (and revised viewpoints on data ownership) will actually see the pocket of the ordinary Web user.
Source: ACLU. Voices: Jason Stiles and Melissa Schwartz
I like to include the ACLU's 2003 video about "ordering pizza in the future" in most of my presentations about privacy. From the first time I saw it, there were two points that stuck out to me.
The first being the power of integrating silos of information to gain insight in customer needs and preferences. In a positive case, you can image a retailer knowing that you will be going on vacation in a week and that you have bought designer clothing in the past being able to highlight deals and discounts on fine clothing for tropical climates. However, as the video points out, every technology (or intention) has positive and negative sides. The line between social good or convenience ("positive") and creepy
("negative") is not well-defined, but is intuitively known by the consumer.
The second point is the decreasing levels of privacy inherent when one integrates more and more data (even if one is "only" merging metadata). In the process of collecting more information about someone, it becomes more likely than one can identify that particular person in the large crowd. The collected attributes that describe them and their behavior form a unique fingerprint, which is evident even when portions of the data are de-identified.
It is the second point that concerns me most. The current push is towards big data analytics and using cloud technologies whenever possible. This focus puts a spotlight on the erosion of privacy.
Unfortunately, there is more emphasis in the mainstream discussion on the potential benefits of this information explosion and very little practical technical or policy action on guarding against the possible negative outcomes.
To quote Bruce Schneier, "Data is the Pollution of the Information Age". Shall we wait, like the previous generation, until it is too late to address the problem?
Fundamentally, I want to believe that all social networks have, at their core, an awesome mission - connecting people so that their lives can be fuller.
Whether, just clever marketing message or a genuine, initial driving force, it is fair to say that their current top imperative is geared towards profitability.
And in that drive to extract value for their shareholders and investors, they miss the point and shed any illusion (which they sold to their users) of them being good stewards.
Instead, they claim ownership of any user data that gets put on their platform, they package user data into neat groups that are sold to advertisers (and anyone who can pay), they charge advertisers for access to the significant user populations on their networks and they leverage user data to sell products to those same users.
In a nutshell, the problem with current social networks is that they have betrayed the trust of their users (and found that they can get away with it).
We can all agree that the data in our wallets and contained in filing cabinets in our homes are owned by us and we are well-aware that there are legally-stipulated rights that apply to the use, processing and disclosure of this data.
Dr Tyrone Grandison
Executive. Technologist. Change Agent. Computer Scientist. Data Nerd. Privacy and Security Geek.