Taking responsibility for our data

In her keynote today, Wendy mentioned that people are, in general, very bad at managing their data: she included herself in that category, and I certainly include myself there. Relatedly, she also touched on the issue that Mark Bernstein recently blogged: how easy it is to identify people from anonymised data, and thus how difficult it is to share data and do meaningful analysis on it (if you aren’t a big company with that data to hand). (I suspect this is why there was such a high proportion of WebSci’11 papers examined Twitter: we can access that data!)

Regarding personal files, our own data: we use Dropbox and the like because that’s what’s out there… but what’s out there is provided by private companies, subject to all the pressures and constraints that that implies.

More, this isn’t just about personal files — what about our health data, our financial data? What about the digital footprints we leave every time we interact online?

Wendy suggested that perhaps we need trusted third parties, not-for-profit organisations where we can store our data and allow people access under certain conditions. This could concern our own personal data and Big Players sharing anonymised data (such as search records) for research purposes.

Any why not? This area is clearly one that individuals aren’t good at dealing with, and is rapidly becoming a universal issue.

People trust(ed!) banks with their finances, so why not a (regulated, neutral) equivalent with data? Somewhere where we have the right to get our data back if we want it; somewhere that must inform us of what they do with our data; somewhere transparent.

I think we’ve been ruined, perhaps, by the prevailing business models online: we as consumers get ‘free’ services. The thing to remember (and I can’t remember who first said this, sadly) is: If you are not paying, you are not the customer: you are the product. In other words, what’s going on here is that you are receiving a ‘free’ service (social networking, email, online data storage) in return for your rights to your own data; the company makes money off that data.

Which isn’t necessarily bad, as long as you’re informed and happy to do that. But right now, we aren’t informed, we just do it because that’s how the web works… right? You get free stuff, and, er, stuff happens with data but we don’t think about that.

So, remind me… what’s wrong with paying a sensible, proportionate amount of money to retain control over your data?


4 responses to this post.

  1. I like the idea of a neutral third party providing an escrow service for the data – but am worried that if we now accept that we pay a reasonable price to keep control of our data and get some data from this trusted 3rd party, then isn’t there a risk that the source will dry up and nobody will contribute their data (because they’re no longer encouraged by the community spirit of “give to get”)?
    Moreover it’s possible that data that IS contributed might now be a bit suspect – why is someone contributing that data – they don’t *need* to in order to get some data out, as they’re paying for that… so what’s their motivation? Hmmm…

    Just some thoughts 🙂


  2. […] our interactions: we leave traces everywhere, all the time (a recurring theme; see also my post on taking responsibility for our data). Many relationships are digitally-mediated, and while the spoken word is ephemeral, digital traces […]


  3. […] my write-ups of talks from Wendy Hall, Bernie Hogan and Marc Smith, not to mention my rants about data and social […]


  4. The idea of Peer-to-Peer (P2P) social networks have been around for a while to address this issue. Personally I’d like to see more use of common xml standards to help share information, but retain the rights/locally hosted.


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