Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

Tipping points: data ownership

12 May 2016


This week, I watched two earlier episodes of Backlight, a Dutch public TV documentary on various subjects. One was interesting: Offline as a luxury item (video). In my view, the TV makers missed a serious opportunity by focussing on the offline part of connectivity.

The global connectivity that is being aimed by companies like Facebook’s and by Google Loon is ultimately self-interest as these companies thrive on data. Unlike Backlight, I will not complain about their ambitions as these efforts also serve the people who have been disconnected from the internet for so long (eg, Google Loon in Sri Lanka). Connectivity is a right, not an obligation. The Amish people in the USA have understood that well (Backlight > 32 min).

In the Backlight video (> 4 min.), Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, makes a comment about a tipping point on connectivity. Her tipping point is in individual behaviour towards being online or offline. Like her, I doubt that global connectivity can be stopped. Only some people can afford to escape from it.

Sherry Turkle’s remark on our behaviour is interesting in another way. More and more, we move from a real life with real conversations towards a virtual life with virtual conversations. Offline thoughts and conversations become online thoughts and conversations. 

I am writing this blog by using Blogger / Blogspot, a Google product. As long as my thoughts are in my mind, there is no question about data ownership. The moment I write them in this blog, the fine print – or terms of service – of this product may well claim ownership of the data that I have just entered. Especially, Facebook is notorious for this. Hence, I only use Facebook as a marketing tool for my (Google) blogs.

The tipping point that I see is on data ownership. Back in the Analogue Age, no one would question the ownership of the contents of a letter that would be sent by regular mail. It is often still illegal to open sealed letters (Wiki). Today we are in the Digital Age and data ownership is a serious issue. All content of electronic data exchange (eg, browser, email) is read, is used for marketing tools (eg, tailored advertising), and may even be legally owned by a company. (Backlight > 21 min.)

Contrary to the Analogue Age, we will no longer own our own data in the Digital Age. The only solution is to live “off the grid”. Wiki: “Off-the-grid is a system and lifestyle designed to help people function without the support of remote infrastructure, such as an electrical grid. [ ] The term off-the-grid (OTG) can refer to living in a self-sufficient manner without reliance on one or more public utilities”.

I have already outlined the consequences of data ownership in my 20 January 2015 blog on “Big data, data ownership and data privacy” and my 14 February 2015 blog on “Big Brother, Big Data and the Presumption of Innocence”. Hence, I will not repeat them in this blog.

The common argument on this issue is that you should only fear these developments if you have something to hide. I agree with Professor Paul Frissen (> 22 min) that everyone has something to hide and that anyone who claims the opposite does not really know himself.

Yes – Owner of a lonely heart (1983) – artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2


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