The Democratisation of Personal Data

The October issue of Management Today has an article by Simon Caulkin that highlights the fact that ‘Big Brother’ technology is now so pervasive, and the ability to link it together so close to being complete, that the debate about public versus private is about to explode.

As we highlighted in an earlier blog, for data to be of real value it must provide a complete picture of the person. Their attitudes, their behaviours, their circumstances. That pulling such data together enables highly predictive models to be produced is not new news. We have been compiling and using such models ever since we started analysing supermarket loyalty card data.

The issue that Caulkin raises, however, is that doing it with the permission of the individual is one thing. Doing it without that explicit permission is quite another. And, more than that, people at large do not even realise what is possible.

In Orwell’s book 1984 he paints the picture of a society where cameras record everything and armies of people watch and codify all that is happening. This is no longer science fiction but science fact. Amazon has a global army of such paid volunteers (called Turkers) to process information. The mobile phone companies use them as well – ever wondered how some of the Siri-type functions on your Smartphone work? There are real people reading and responding to your requests.

Sounds far-fetched? It isn’t.

What’s more, the technology to make ever more and ever faster connections grows all the time.

Amusingly, new companies are now springing up allowing you to control your online personality, yet more faceless institutions to help you manage the original set of faceless institutions. So how does that work then?

Obviously the threats of data misuse are very real and very big. But trying to control this at the point of use is like legislating the way the wind will blow. And giving people tools to control what can and can’t be kept is not what people want.

What people want is for undemocratic and exploitative ways of using the data to be illegal and the penalties for misuse to be draconian. And to have the right to opt out. That won’t be easy but ultimately it is the only workable solution.

This debate needs to take place and sooner rather than later.

If you agree – let Schezzer know (or do you want to opt out?). :-)

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