Data ownership is the way to go

Privacy for the sake of privacy

Yesterday, I came across Keith Axline’s post “Privacy Is Just the First Step, the Goal Is Data Ownership“. I wholeheartedly agree with the concept of data ownership. I think we should elevate data ownership as a fundamental human right and take it from there.

This tidbit caught my attention:

Privacy for privacy’s sake is a weak argument, and privacy advocates should abandon it.

It is true that many people have a hard time defining what privacy means and why it is important. People feel it is important, but they have a hard time articulating the reasons for the need for privacy.

First and foremost, privacy is an individual choice. People make their own choices what they think is appropriate. Socialites and celebrities trade in privacy for media attention while others would not want to have their photo taken by paparazzi.

The problem with the internet today is that you are not given a choice at all. GPDR tries to do that, but it is like the T&Cs and cookie permission dialogs, nobody pays attention to those and mindlessly click them away. GPDR is not a solution, not even close.

There is no choice because you do not have any rights to your own data.

But we are not even aware of which data is collected and how it is distributed and sold. I have seen databases of 220M Americans containing 1,000+ attributes per person including religion, political affiliation, gun ownership, etc. It is relatively trivial to build databases like this and corporations do this.

Corporations have access to data about you, you do not even know. This creates information asymmetry in the market place. Companies can decide that you are an unfavorable customer based on that data. Of course, this is in their right. Companies can choose with whom they want to do business. The problem here is two-fold:

  1. You do not know which data is used by a company to determine eligibility and pricing.
  2. You cannot change or update that data.

This is happening today. I think the closest example is credit reports. Now, credit reports are in a highly regulated domain and it is for the reasons above this happened. Similar this needs to happen for other data too.

In short, the reasons that we talk about and find privacy important are:

  • No choice about the collection of data.
  • Unknown which data is collected about you.
  • No control over correctness and distribution of your data.

No privacy law is ever going to fix this. Ever. I am 100% convinced of that. The problem is choice. We need to be able to choose what we want to release and what not. Clearly, my mortgage provider has more rights to information about me than Facebook. I need to be able to choose.

This is the reason it is better to talk about data ownership. You are your own data and nobody can take that without explicit and clear permission. We should just forget about the whole concept of privacy because as a concept it is impossible to define.


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