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Mining of your personal data is big business

Mining of your personal data is big business


Your personal data is a perennial issue that will just not go away. The fact that you have given it away for free or almost nothing makes the situation worse.

In fact it becomes ever more urgent, because the way things are, the big extractors of personal data will go on hoovering it up and use it for whatever they choose to do with it.

We raised this back in December 2011 in Just How Valuable Is Your Web Data? ; in April 2012 in Personal Data: Government Plans a Rich Harvest and in June 2012 with Who Actually Owns Your Social Media?

And every time you get spam because they allege you have agreed to it, you can only curse the onward selling (misuse) of your personal data to benefit the commercial interests of others.

Blame the EULA

One perceptive analysis of the problem was offered by John Naughton in the Guardian (February 2015). He pointed a finger of blame at the ‘end user licence agreement (EULA).

He described this quite graphically as ‘three coats of prime legal verbiage distributed over 32 pages, which basically comes down to this: “If you want to do business with us, then you will do it entirely on our terms; click here to agree, otherwise go screw yourself. Oh, and by the way, all of your personal data revealed in your interactions with us belongs to us.”

Naughton said that this formula ‘applies regardless of whether you are actually trying to purchase something from the author of the EULA or merely trying to avail yourself of its “free” services.’ He not surprisingly labelled this situation as ‘strange.’

He wondered why billions of us in this generation have ‘passively accepted this grotesquely asymmetrical deal.’ People may also wonder why our governments have shown so little interest in the matter.

He says future historians, ‘diligently hunting through digital archives, will discover that there were only a few voices crying in the wilderness at the time.’

Voices in the Wilderness

He cited Jaron Manier, a pioneer of virtual reality, who wrote a book Who Owns the Future, reviewed in The Guardian with an alternative Guardian assessment .

In this key work, Lanier argued that by convincing users to give away valuable information about themselves in exchange for “free” services, firms such as Google and Facebook have accumulated colossal amounts of data (and corresponding amounts of wealth) at virtually no cost.’

What did he propose as a solution? He suggested making all online transactions ‘bidirectional, to ensure that the economic value of personal data can be realised by individuals, who at the moment just give it away.’

The second voice crying out is Doc Searles in his book The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge. It is described in a vimeo but basically suggests a ‘vendor relationship management’ which will make a customer ‘a fully empowered actor in the market place, rather than one whose power in many cases is dependent on exclusive relationships with vendors, by coerced agreement provided entirely by those vendors’.

This revolution would mean a complete change from current ‘lock-in’ practice. Customers must have systems that they can manage ‘interactions with companies, but on customers’ terms.’

Software Solution

We need the idea that an individual’s data ‘belongs to him.’ One answer could be a piece of software called Databox which Technology Review said in January ‘could solve the personal data conundrum, and one day safeguard your personal data and sell it for you.’

Taken as read that to opt out of today’s online world is not possible, nor is it economically desirable, a device which allows your data to be collected and then used as you wish sounds too good to be true.

While trust in depositing huge amounts of personal data is a factor with hacking, compromise, crime, identity loss and exposure to the unwanted, nonetheless, the appeal of it to the public is very real.

Medical, tax, work, crime and other records are inevitably part of this issue. Government security ‘snooping’ and Google scanning all emails are parts of this thorny question: who owns personal data and how can it safely be capitalised?

Naughton finished his thoughts with the statement that ‘the Databox project researchers are on the right track. As the Chinese say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This is it.’

Any thoughts to share?

Other related blogs:

Taxing Opinions to Broaden Out the Privacy vs Public Knowledge Debate, 29 September 2014

Is Social Media Marketing Your Key to Some Extra Income? 21 October 2014

It’s Not the Google Answers But the Questions That Reveal the Most About Us, 10 September 2014

Digital Detoxing: New Marketing Gimmick or Essential Life Enhancer? 26 August 2014

Open Data Update Opens New Doors on Resource, 6 August 2014

The Privacy Debate 2: Try the Digital Independence Diet for a Month, If You Dare, 8 July 2014

The Privacy Debate 1: Fighting Back Against the Invaders of Privacy Is a Tall Order, 7 July 2014

Reports of the Death of Online Privacy Are Premature, After All, 2 June 2014

If More Data Sharing Is the Answer, What is the Question? 29 April 2013

Image: Arbeck