Web Project Manager,

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Should we be concerned with companies owning our data?

As far as I know, google was one of the first to pioneer the business model of providing an online service free of charge in order for them to harvest user data. Now I'm sure some of you are thinking "if people are willing to give up their information, it serves them right". I believe the average person has no idea what happens behind the scenes with large online services. For that matter most politicians don't fully understand it. Now, I am not saying that google, apple, twitter, or facebook have a master plan to turn people into sheep in order control them for their own financial gain, but the truth is that the temptation is growing as we willingly give them larger windows into our lives.

This centralized data world we are moving into needs to have some serious accountability, and safegards put in place. People need to be educated on not only with where we are now, but also in how we are being led to share more and more of our lives online, and where this could lead us as humanity.

If anyone has any insights on what measures may be in place to protect people that I am not aware of, please let me know. The advantages of having centralized data is incredible, and this was a natural progression of technology which is here to stay, but I do have my concerns.


Banks sell consumers' shopping data to retailers:

Mobile Privacy bill:

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    Jun 13 2011: The key to your question I think is the word "owning".
    Should we be concerned with companies owning our data?
    - If we contract with them, and sell them our data, no, we should not be concerned. It's our choice what we want to do, and in different jobs I have sold intellectual property, aggregated and dis-aggregated customer data, and sometimes even my own personal data. But, this is contract, and I am paid for it, or I freely offer it for a benefit
    - If personal data is harvested, and it is not done transparently, and therefore i doubt the "ownership" element, then yes, we should be worried.
    Life is simple: If we contract to do something freely, it's ok. If something us thrust upon, it's not.
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    Jun 27 2011: What makes data about us "ours"?
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    Jun 18 2011: There has been a serious attempt at steaming back towards the 1980's, in NZ. Our government has secretly been revising surveillance laws regarding the internet (meetings held behind closed doors with no public consultation). This occurred mere months before they amended copyright laws.

    Such a pathetic attempt to steer the new century with out of date, stupid legislation aiming to keep the money flowing in to the few. Wait until the people get truly fed up. Then we'll see the true strength of consumer power.
  • Jun 12 2011: I find it humorous that people have this huge misconception of privacy when it comes to personal data and the internet. Nothing is anonymous on the internet. Online activity is logged by companies, programs and websites whether it be for security, marketing or malicious reasons. I have no intention of sounding pessimistic or nihilistic but by nature, that is simply how the internet works.

    There have been strides against these actions (http://www.duckduckgo.com) but people need to learn that it is impossible to ensure complete privacy when it comes to accessing data across computers. It's likely that the misconception is birthed from ignorance of what the internet is. Think of accessing a web page as checking out a dispensable copy of an article at the local library.

    On an ending note, this doesn't mean the internet is not safe to use. Be cautious as to what information you share and nothing of harm will come your way.
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      Jun 16 2011: LIkewise, I find it humorous when people post private information to Facebook or click a "Like" button and then get upset when they find out it went to more people than they intended. If you don't want it public, don't post it. More importantly, people complain about Facebook, but continue to use it.

      This logic applies to everything on the web. Don't show your birthdate, your marriage status, your children's names anywhere unless you are fine with other people and businesses knowing this information. If you don't want people to know what you are buying, don't buy on the internet. (Also, use cash and don't join frequent buyers clubs if your information is so private.)

      People's choices of where to spend their money is what matters to companies. What people say doesn't matter unless they act on it. If you don't like companies selling or using your data, don't do business with them. If you do, for whatever reason, you are condoning their actions regardless of what you say.
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    • Jun 12 2011: Very insightful post Ezra. You've touched on some great points.
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      Jun 13 2011: IMO, you are confusing between stopping and being concerned. The question asked here is about being concerned with companies owning our data, not about how we can prevent them owing this data.

      Take for example the nuclear weapons. If we cannot prevent their Proliferation, does it mean we can allow ourselves not to be concerned about their Proliferation ?? We all agree it's exactly the opposite way. Precisely our inability to prevent their Proliferation, should make us even more concerned about the nuclear weapons. So, it's the same thing with our personal data. What you say about our inability to prevent them from collecting our data, should make us even more concerned.

      Besides, what did you expect Zuckerberg would say. He is making his living on data Proliferation. He rejoices finding how people get influenced by what he says and give up their hope together with their privacy, surrendering them into his hands. If you ask him, he would tell you even to surrender your free will & thoughts into his hands, not just your personal data.
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        Jun 16 2011: I do not know Zuckerberg well, but I am willing to bet that you are making him into a monster. I seriously doubt he wants people to "surrender your free will" any more than the average rational person might want.
  • Jul 4 2011: all i can say is that there ARE people out there willing to use this data maliciously; i personnally have been followed up on information shared over facebook, by overseas phishers. i want to point out that the most likely case of these happening are the 'apps' on FB. when you agree to their usage, read the fine print carefully: it more often than not states that they may access your info, your friends, at any time of day. i know this part is irrelevant but i felt i needed to share it.
  • Jun 29 2011: Judge, thank you for digging deeper into this topic. You are correct it is the tip of an iceburg in the general concept of owning information, and one I feel we need to examine closely, as the implications are far reaching. However in this particular question, I am referring to information as it relates to people personal lives, and details.

    Perhaps I should give a little background. When I refer to companies "owning" our data, I am referring to the storage of information (pictures, emails, documents, text, web activity, etc.) in private company databases. These databases can then be queried in a number of different ways by that particular company.

    As part of their business model, many services will offer limited access of their database to individuals with accounts through their service. This provides value to the consumer (ie. facebook). But the actual data is stored on the company servers.

    Obviously the greatest value here is to the companies themselves, as they are the only ones that have a "complete picture" on everyone's data.

    Here is an interesting discussion I came across on facebook's terms regarding photos: http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=6314950779&topic=14490

    The idea of having "legal rights" is very interesting, and I would have to do some more research into this, as I am not sure what the current status is on such matters.
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    Jun 29 2011: How do you own a data ?
    Simply by knowing it and therefore can do something about or based on it ?
    Or having legal rights over it ?
    Or If it's about you... it's yours ?

    If that's too hard to answer... WHERE is the data ?
    Has any of you seen a data ?

    Anybody who can firmly answer your question is wrong.
    Dead wrong.
    Just like we are now inheriting planet wide problems because we insist we can own nature.
    Your question is like the tip of an iceberg of yet another race wide problem because we insist we can own information... knowledge... ideas.
  • Jun 29 2011: Yes we should be concerned with companies owning our data; but this does not mean to stop. If we do not get concerned; in near future; companies will even try to own data of our bedrooms and will be leaked by hackers too.
  • Jun 27 2011: I think the only thing you can do as an individual is to make sure you monitor yourself and remain conscious of what type of information is available about you. For example, a few months ago I decided to share my location on Google Maps just so I'm constantly reminded that what I do is never a private matter. I know that my cellphone company has access to that information and I can't do anything about it, but if I'm fully aware of this, maybe some days I'll decide to leave my cellphone home or take the battery off.

    I think it's the same with your online image. It took me a while before I started to use Facebook. What convinced me is the fact that people were tagging me on pictures that I didn't even know existed. Now, I monitor it. As for companies that harvest information, I think the only thing we can do as individuals is be aware of it and feed them with enough information so that the picture that they get is more like the picture you want them to get...

    If you keep trying to give away as little information as possible, that's when you picture becomes distorted, and I think that may cause problems in the future. If something embarassing is available about you, maybe you should make sure that the explanation is also available.
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    Jun 27 2011: I think we should be concerned. The problem is not what is done today, but what can be done in the future.
  • Jun 24 2011: should we be concerned? ofcourse we should be. Companies have already started using personal data (like browsing patterns, possible interests etc) to form an information bubble around us. If they could use such non-confidential data to promote their agenda, what prevents them from using confidential data?

    Do we really believe that there is no "BIG brother" watching? Are they watching us for security? NO !! They are ONLY interested in profits and they are watching us to ensure we don't disrupt their profits.

    An interesting TED Talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html
  • Jun 20 2011: As long as companies have ability on gathering privacy, I think we won't be able to perfectly prohibit them using information without consent. Whenever I think about things like this, I always come up with dystopia novel such as 1984 or Brave New World. Nonetheless, we should monitor and regulate systemically through well-organized bills and proper committee's activities.
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    Jun 20 2011: I suppose I would just like a little of the proceeds that are made from selling my information...it is mine after all.
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      Jun 28 2011: First of all, what makes it yours?

      Second, that information on its own has no value. It has value in it being accumulated.

      Third, you ARE getting proceeds. You get proceeds in the form of free services. So, you are getting something of value in exchange for something which isn't necessarily yours and which had no value. Now, what is not fair about that arrangement?
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    Jun 18 2011: Yes, and more importantly lawmakers need to be aware of what these corporations are doing with our data. Privacy laws are very 20th century and need to be brought up to speed. There are very confined ways in which these companies can basically herd us like sheep.

    That said, it is human nature to be led. Some people like to follow, while others like to lead and explore new ideas. This is why I love TED.
  • Jun 18 2011: If i could trust that my information would not be used against me in any way and that it would benefit me, then i would give it right away. All kinds of data from the most mundane to the most private. (They might even be able to find my life partner). But the data stored in machines is nevertheless accessible by individuals who are humans. It takes just one miscreant to cause havoc. There is no way that any corporation that uses people, to handle data at any point, can guarantee my privacy or my data. Just look at how big name companies like sony and google are unable to keep this information private. I trust those with power to act, right now the power belongs to the hackers and other criminal entities (countries included)
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    Jun 18 2011: Concerned?

    Facebook is a CIA operation and everyone knows this.
    Google too.
    Ans for Bill Gaytes he has his own NWO agenda.

    Yahoo deletes accounts and comments that do not suit their "Agenda" whatever it is.

    What can we do about it?

    Don't trust anyone that offers "Free" Services that include things like "confession" and or private data submission.

    The Internet is ours we just have to take it back.

    New search engines will arise and people will put their work together and together we will create a new Internet free of control.
    An Internet that educates and elaborates instead of being just an entertainment pool and a second TV.

    We create our world and this it shall be.

    The propaganda from Facebook Google Yahoo and MSN is right out of Goebbels and Hitlers 3rd Reich and so are the faces behind Google Facebook and Microsoft.

    Pure Eugenic Nazis.

    Children of this world wake up to the evil that surrounds us and let us all work together to make this world a better place for generations to come!

    D.W. Major
    Zero Emission Transportation Ltd
  • Jun 16 2011: I used to work for a company that 'harvested' data from Loyalty cards, and I agree that this is a really interesting area, and one which is only going to attract increasing levels of scrutiny over time. I think that the forces of regulations - such as they are - need to ensure that companies are using data in a way that people would readily expect them to. For example, I don't think it is an unreasonable expectation that if you use a loyalty card for a certain shop then they will look at that data and try and sell you other goods and services that you might be interested in. However you probably would not expect that company to sell / pass on your details to a different company for them to try and market their products.

    This area gets even more interesting in the realm of social media, should employers be allowed to make employment decisions based on what their employees post on Facebook / YouTube / Ted.com? As these are public posts, why not?

    In the UK we have legislation which compels companies to disclose to individuals any data that they hold on them, but this is a right that few people make use of - perhaps an obvious way of creating natural checks and balances is for some enterprising organisation to set up a service which people can use enact these informational rights and find out what organisations know about them...
    • Jun 16 2011: Thank you for your perspective on this topic Mike. I agree that many companies do not use their data in ways users would expect. If this is clearly spelled out initially, than I can understand, and the person supplying the data has a full understanding of what they are agreeing to, but in cases such as facebook, google, and apple, this is not very apparent.
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    Jun 13 2011: We should be concerned about our personal information not when we've already spread it out, but when we are about to share it. Problem is not in those companies owning our personal information, but in us. It's for us to decide whether we are ready to give some peculiar information of our personality. If you are not sure of someone to provide you with reasonable security, just drop it out and you'll get rid of the headache. We just need reason.
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      Jun 17 2011: Perhaps we are careful when we give out personal information but I don't have a very good memory - I can't say for certain if the little bits of information I commit to the larger digital memory don't get glued back together to form a weird picture - all the warp with very little weft.
    • Jun 27 2011: Considering that anyone with a bit more than basic computer skills could extract all information from your computer, history etc etc etc in a matter of perhaps thirty minutes, I'm inclined to assume that certain individuals/companies may already know more about you/us than we think. Thus, it's completely irrelevant how much information you give out or don't. Sounds a bit crack pot-ish, but it's quite realistic.
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    Jun 13 2011: I am fine with companies possessing all the data I *voluntarily* give to them. But even if trafficking with data should become the most normal business in the world, it wouldn't give me sleepless nights. What I am much more concerned about is the role of governments in this - the guys who send out armed forces against you when you don't comply with their orders. Companies primarily want my money, and they have to convince me that I should give it to them. Governments however pursue political agendas that range from controlling children's upbringing to leading war and committing genocide.

    Contrary to companies, the state has the power to commit such acts, and history shows that this power is frequently used where the people allow or even long for it. This is what I am concerned about...
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    Jun 13 2011: Definitely we should. We all should be concerned about it. Perhaps we cannot prevent it, but nonetheless, we can & should worry. Because our long history proves that whenever power & control are found in the hands of an individual or a group of individuals, without proper outside scrutiny, they or their successors are going to misuse it in some way. It doesn't mean necessarily they would deliberately misuse it. It just might be that a third party would hack it and misuse it due to the holders' negligence, weakness, lack of understanding, etc. In any case, as long as the human nature has not progressed by the same level of his technology progress, this nature will always be tempted to misuse the power he gains through this technology.

    One not needs to go too far to see this. Just take 2 well known technologies//inventions and see what we have made of them:

    1. Dynamite
    2. Nuclear Energy

    Just recall who discovered them (Alfred Nobel, Albert Einstein), what great personalities they were, what were their noble intentions when making those discoveries and then, see now how much these technologies are misused, even to such an extent that the entire mankind feels today constantly threatened due to the misuse of these technologies.
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    Jun 13 2011: Hi there Steve, we should be concerned when the data is used against the rights of people. Our data is crucial in powering our government-business-economic systems. Data provides the nexus of the key principles to strengthen our systems - principles of justice and truth - accountability and transparency.

    We need to see our economic and political system mirrored in a digital world so that our digital voices can better direct it and effectively implement transparency and accountability.

    With this as a backbone, we will have the power to transform our world. http://bit.ly/ThePowerInfo
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    Jun 8 2011: I was captivated by Damon Horowitz' topic and his twist on the subject. When I heard him insist on the music intro, and finale, I was sure that my concern about "should you be concerned about a company owning your data?". I happen to be a composer; am I worried that anyone can own my music but il will do them no more good than it does me: no money in it. Except maybe if that music happened to express for you a whole world of emotions, colours, a place in time, a time in space to enhance your creation or your restaurant's mood, or your TED presentation. But music is the wallpaper of our lives and it's free. What does it say about musicians? Moral music if we wrote it today, should be silent.
    • Jun 9 2011: I appreciate the comment Gerald. You bring up the point about the transition from analog media to digital, and how file-sharing has created the environment where a system like (apple's itunes) can exist. This is an interesting discussion in itself, however my intention of the question was more along the lines of personal data that is gathered from our daily lives, and how that may be used.

      To give you some context to what I am saying, lets look at what the big three (Apple, Google, Facebook) know about us (potentially, if we provide them with this info, and more and more people are doing this):

      Schedule - This is huge, if you know how a person plans their lives, you know what they value, their priorities etc.
      Documents - Many small companies are using google docs as a great way to share information, brainstorm, etc.)
      Contacts - A lot can be said about a person by who is on their contact list
      Communication - Another massive one. You know what they think, their opinions, beliefs, etc.)
      Location - More and more people are getting on board with "check-ins", GPS based services, etc., besides the obvious personal security risks, this also allows companies to know a great deal about you)
      Purchasing - By bringing your buying experience within their eco-system, google, Facebook, or itunes, can build up a large profile on you)

      Here is my point. Each one of these elements of our lives were handled by separate companies in the past. Now in our digital age, and with the push to move everything online, we are faced with these new and very real concerns of very view companies being able to know too much about us.

      I think these issues should spawn many conversations that we should not be taking lightly.