Who really owns your data?

Who really owns your data?

If you read the news, you’ll have noticed that Facebook are under threat of investigation after allegedly commissioning psychological experiments to be carried out on over 700,000 of its regular users.

It warrants the question of who really owns your online persona, your data. What are you signing up to when you sign up to these cloud services?

I want to dig a little deeper and try to answer that question for you.

Our lives in data

Recently I’ve got to thinking, am I sharing, receiving or just giving away too much information to services that I regularly use?  How many of these services are actually collating data on me?  What am I actually agreeing to? Is this useful, benign or potentially harmful?  Should I be more anonymous?

Being anonymous is difficult, if not near impossible in today’s highly connected world. My IP address is logged on a minute to minute basis and social metrics are often shared, and not always with implicit consent.

If I spend a moment and ‘audit’ the software that I regularly use that shares data & stores it “in the cloud” it quickly becomes a list that is extensive.  Here are a few examples of what my audit revealed:

  • I’m sharing my exercise schedule on fitocracy.
  • My sleep and walking activity on jawbone.
  • My styles, weight, height and salary on thread.
  • My photos, relationships, location and activity on Facebook.
  • My job and education history on LinkedIn.

My music taste is logged on Spotify or Last FM and the films I watch are shown on Netflix.

Google knows the websites I like and tailors adverts towards me whilst amazon tries to suggest what I should buy next.

I love the software that can tell me all of this information within seconds but the bit that frightens me, the bit that not many people seem to speak of and I’d guess not many people even think about is – who actually owns all of that data about me?

How much do people know about me and what are they doing with that information?

Take a look at this infographic by Seagate – Demystifying Big Data

big data

Who owns your data

We willingly embrace this “Big Data” world. We share, friend, check in and retweet our every move. We enter frequent flyer miles and relentlessly swipe loyalty cards. We leave an expanding, and apparently innocent trail of digital breadcrumbs behind us.

But as we use the Internet for “free,” we have to remember that if we’re not paying for something, we’re not the customer. We are in fact the product being sold — or, more specifically, our data is.

So here’s a tricky question: Who owns all that data?

The fundamental problem with data ownership is that bits don’t behave like atoms. For most of human history, our laws have focused on physical assets that couldn’t be duplicated. Now, we live in an age where duplication can happen almost instantaneously. The huge volume at which information can now be duplicated was completely impossible when all data was physical.

It begs the question – if the data is stored on a server, signed away by us for use by the company, is it ours even if it is about us?

The concept of “data” as it relates to everyday people is still evolving. Let’s face it the products, services and companies requesting and using ‘our data’ are evolving so quickly that the legal framework is always out of date.

How many times do you find yourself signing up to cloud based software through your social media account? I do it often, its easy and highly accessible.

How many of those services do you use again? The thing is we don’t tend to unsubscribe, leaving all of your social data locked into a 3rd party piece of software.

Instagram attempted to change its T&Cs back in 2012 leaving photographers inadvertently giving away the IP in their work? Users reacted angrily to proposals that suggested uploaded pictures could be sold on to advertisers.

There are some big changes here.   We now have the precedent recently set where a complainant won the ‘right to be forgotten’ on the Internet against Google allowing us to request links to stories to be removed.  In fact, Independant, there have been 70,000 requests for such a service and Google’s handling has been called into question.

Facebook Psych Experiment

British regulators are investigating revelations that Facebook treated swathes of its users like laboratory rats in an experiment probing into their emotions.

Facebook allowed researchers to manipulate the content that appeared in the main section, or “news feed,” of about 700,000 randomly selected users during a single week in January 2012. The data-scientists were trying to collect evidence to prove their thesis that people’s moods could spread like an “emotional contagion” depending on the tone of the content that they were reading.

Facebook has now apologised justifying it as being something that people had agreed to within their terms of service.

This brings up the issues raised in the the movie “Terms & Conditions May Apply” – which raises the fact that we willingly agree to things that we don’t know about – buried in 1000’s words of type

This also raises questions about what are you really signing, and how can it be interpreted

See also this April Fool’s gag by Gamestation

cloud computing

Trust in the connected world

Let’s face it, as a consumer you can make the choice before you begin the use of any of this software.  You decide whether to accept those terms & conditions or not.  So, I guess the other word to remember is ‘trust’.  Trust in the company who you share your personal data with.

As we surround ourselves with more and more devices that are connected to the Internet – the ‘Internet of things’ as coined by the technologist Kevin Ashton in 1999 – this question is going to become more and more relevant.  One of trust and what happens with all this data.

Do the benefits of personalisation, convenience and lack of cost (for all those free services we use) outweigh the increasing lack of control over where and who owns our data.

There are academics predicting the development of more private networks that are used to store an individuals ‘cloud of things’ as discussed in this blog post from Wired.  The data held in these networks can be further encrypted to help with the protection of the information prior to any sharing with wider Internet.

The tech world is evolving fast, the proliferation of data is on an exponential growth curve and the questions around the use of data ownership and privacy are only at the beginning of being answered.

What do you think? Remember your answers may be stored here forever ;0)

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