Governments must regulate data ownership to prevent privacy violations and ensure that businesses use modern technologies ethically.
Well-established businesses constantly collect data from their customers to develop products and create strategies. However, aggressive data collection can be bad for customers. That’s because these companies can use sensitive data to manipulate their customers. For example, Facebook exposed confidential data of millions of users to Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica used this data to manipulate voters during the 2016 US presidential election. Similarly, sensitive data can be used unethically with big data and AI. Hence, governments must regulate data ownership to ensure that public data is not misused.
Who owns public data?
The concept of data ownership can be very complex. Data ownership mostly depends on the person who created the data and the platform used by them. For instance, if you click a picture on your smartphone, then it is your intellectual property. However, data created over the cloud may have some strings attached. Such data may not be entirely owned by any user. Hence, ensuring the privacy of data has become very difficult. That’s because legal processes haven’t adapted to private internet entities yet.
Understanding data ownership becomes even more difficult with wearables. Wearables such as smartwatches, fitness trackers, and a wide range of medical wearables can constantly monitor a user’s health and physical data. Although monitoring healthcare data can be helpful to users and patients, it can also lead to privacy violations. Also, such health-related data might be owned by wearable manufacturers who may mishandle or misuse it.
Why must you be concerned about data ownership?
Many of us aren’t familiar with the term, ‘data brokers’. Data brokers can legally buy and sell large volumes of personal data to companies without informing the users. Such data can be collected using big data analytics, browser cookies, social media platforms, and other sources. The accumulated data is bought by companies to understand the location, education, employment, family income, and preferences of current and potential customers. Using such detailed data, companies can understand every customer and their needs and create marketing strategies to advertise products that you may need. If you think about such marketing efforts, data collection and ownership sounds quite beneficial for customers. But, is it really beneficial?
Chuck Palahniuk, in his classic book, ‘Fight Club', writes, “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy s*it we don't need,”. We are witnessing this exact phenomenon with highly effective marketing strategies. Advertisements are manipulating us into buying new products that we may or may not really need. Since such marketing strategies are based on large volumes of data, they can make accurate predictions and manipulate customers. In this manner, we allow algorithms to make decisions for us. And, this is not a new phenomenon. Algorithms and machines have been assisting doctors in decision-making for years. Doctors and patients rely on multiple devices while diagnosing critical disorders.
AI and big data algorithms are becoming more advanced every day. Soon, algorithms will be capable of making critical decisions for us such as which stream of education and jobs would be suitable for us and who we should marry. Many of us might argue that there is nothing wrong with algorithms making decisions for us if these algorithms can produce desired outcomes. However, no matter how advanced algorithms get, they may still make mistakes. For example, many people use dating apps to find their soul mates. These services collect relevant data about their users and suggest compatible people accordingly. But, people using dating services have experienced horrible dates and met incompatible people. Hence, we cannot expect algorithms to make correct decisions even if they have access to large volumes of data. To address such concerns, governments must control data ownership.
How can governments regulate data ownership?
To create effective regulations, governments and lawmakers must be informed about modern technologies such as AI, big data, and IoT. They must be educated on the technicalities that are involved in implementing such technologies. After learning about these technologies, lawmakers can collaborate with experienced professionals to create regulations. These rules can deter the collection of data for malicious intent. It can protect personal privacy and simplify the use of modern technologies for the benefit of everyone.
Governments can develop regulations to ensure that companies that own data are transparent about what data they collect, how they plan to use it, and who can access it. Such details can be disclosed to people while they are signing up for a new app or website with the help of ‘Terms and Conditions.’ Users should also have the choice to opt-in for voluntary data collection. For instance, while signing up for a new e-commerce website, customers can choose whether they want to allow the website to collect their data for marketing purposes. Additionally, governments can ask people for suggestions while developing regulations.
With effective data ownership regulations, governments can ensure that businesses utilize confidential data ethically. However, only creating regulations is not enough. Users like us must be aware of the value of our data and avoid simply giving away our confidential data to businesses. In this manner, we can ensure that we own our data and our data doesn’t own us