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Thread: Should people have proprietary interests in their personal data?

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    Spanish_Vicente sledger's Avatar
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    Should people have proprietary interests in their personal data?

    I'll use the legal definition of the personal data concept used throughout the EU for the purposes of this discussion (i.e. personal data are those that can be related to an identifiable individual).

    But yeah, anyway, more and more these days personal data are being used in ways akin to a tradeable commodity. There is a huge, and ever growing, industry in which undertakings' business models are almost entirely built around the collection and analysis of peoples' data. People have called personal data "the new oil", and "the new currency", but whatever you want to call it, there is no denying that it has become a huge and influential economic asset. It can be used to effectively "pay" for services, and can be used to find out all kinds of sensitive things about your identity.

    Due to the above, there is now a growing debate that people should be afforded proprietary interests/rights in their personal data (i.e. they should be able to "own" their data).

    I was wondering if it might be interesting to have a discussion about this idea.

    Personally, I think the idea itself is alright, in fact I think it's very attractive. But in practical terms, I just can't see how it this could ever really work, not least because the idea of personal data is so ethereal the idea of truly owning or controlling said data sounds like pie in the sky to me.
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    Request Your Custom Title Now! Samuel_Vimes's Avatar
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    isn't this what you have colleagues for, discussing this ****?

    In my previous job we had a bit of discussion about this - whether results data achieved at sports competitions could be considered property of the athlete or of the organizer. I don't think we ever fully resolved it, and so some of the research projects I ended up working on were on slightly fuzzy ground (we ended up reviewing the legal basis on which the athletes competed)
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    Spanish_Vicente sledger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Samuel_Vimes View Post
    isn't this what you have colleagues for, discussing this ****?

    In my previous job we had a bit of discussion about this - whether results data achieved at sports competitions could be considered property of the athlete or of the organizer. I don't think we ever fully resolved it, and so some of the research projects I ended up working on were on slightly fuzzy ground (we ended up reviewing the legal basis on which the athletes competed)
    Haha yeah but I tire of talking to colleagues, many of whom take themselves far too seriously for their own good.

    As things stand in relation to your incident, technically I think the organiser would "own" the data, but if the dataset was made up of aspects of individuals' personal data then there would most likely be loads of terms and conditions attached to as, how, when, why, who, and for what purpose you would be entitled to use it for anything without incurring legal sanction haha.

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    Global Moderator Teja.'s Avatar
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    Is the concept of property in personal data largely motivated from a legal protection POV or from a monetization POV?

    I understand that the relationship is consequential but is the intent just to curb ****s from stealing your data without your consent or are there any feasible ways being mooted where your average Joe Future can profit from selling his consumer information?
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    Spanish_Vicente sledger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Teja. View Post
    Is the concept of property in personal data largely motivated from a legal protection POV or from a monetization POV?

    I understand that the relationship is consequential but is the intent just to curb ****s from stealing your data without your consent or are there any feasible ways being mooted where your average Joe Future can profit from selling his consumer information?
    Both, basically.

    Because you can now do so much with it, it is now extremely valuable, and so the argument goes "why, if my information is so valuable, should I not personally be able to benefit economically from its exploitation?"

    At the same time, because it can also do so much and is so valuable, were it to fall into the wrong hands, you could end up being royally ****ed, so there is also a need for protection from nefarious actors. Property rights is just one mooted possibility in this respect.
    Last edited by sledger; 07-11-2017 at 05:14 AM.

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    Cricketer Of The Year StephenZA's Avatar
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    The simple answer to your initial question is yes....

    However determining what 'personal data' equates to.... and then at what point do you give up rights to this data by just interacting with people on social media sites? What I particularly don't like is the collection of data by Amazon, FB, Apple, Google etc that then gets used in ways we probably don't even know about; and realistically avoiding using these sites nowadays is very difficult if you want to continue participating in the modern world...

    Question I always wondered... who owns the rights to a photograph long term? The people participating in or the person who took the picture? I know for professionals they own the copyright, but what about a selfie with a bunch of friends. I personally detest my picture ending up on FB and ask my friends not to post pictures that include me. But I cant stop them!
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    Spanish_Vicente sledger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StephenZA View Post
    The simple answer to your initial question is yes....

    However determining what 'personal data' equates to.... and then at what point do you give up rights to this data by just interacting with people on social media sites? What I particularly don't like is the collection of data by Amazon, FB, Apple, Google etc that then gets used in ways we probably don't even know about; and realistically avoiding using these sites nowadays is very difficult if you want to continue participating in the modern world...

    Question I always wondered... who owns the rights to a photograph long term? The people participating in or the person who took the picture? I know for professionals they own the copyright, but what about a selfie with a bunch of friends. I personally detest my picture ending up on FB and ask my friends not to post pictures that include me. But I cant stop them!
    Yeah, it's tricky. The legal definition used in the EU is very wide, presumably to stop loopholes emerging, but when you have a very wide definition (i.e. any info that can be used to identify someone), then this encompasses more than the info you share online. For example, me seeing you walking down the street = personal data. How can information like that possibly be owned?

    If you take a more relaxed definition, however, then gaps will start to appear, and the system wouldn't be fit for purpose.

    Regarding the photo, were you in the EU anyway, the taker of the photograph would own the copyright, but if you were identifiable from the photograph then you would be able to exert various legal rights to prevent certain uses of that photo, demand access to the photo or a copy of it, or demand its destruction.

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    Cricketer Of The Year StephenZA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sledger View Post
    Regarding the photo, were you in the EU anyway, the taker of the photograph would own the copyright, but if you were identifiable from the photograph then you would be able to exert various legal rights to prevent certain uses of that photo, demand access to the photo or a copy of it, or demand its destruction.
    Thing is what about the rest of the people in the photo... do I have the more right to ask for the destruction than they would, if they want to keep it, particularly if I participated 'willingly'... what I can see is the lawyers making a lot of money out of these issues!!

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    Spanish_Vicente sledger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StephenZA View Post
    Thing is what about the rest of the people in the photo... do I have the more right to ask for the destruction than they would, if they want to keep it, particularly if I participated 'willingly'... what I can see is the lawyers making a lot of money out of these issues!!
    Yeah, exactly. Another issue that my frequently arise relates to Facebook (and similar) friendships.

    If person A and person B are friends, who's information should that be? Giving sovereignty of that data to either person A or person B would necessarily compromise the "ownership" of the other, despite the fact that both are involved equally.

    It's another of these issues which demonstrates that the idea of ownership or property simply can't be transposed over such an intangible commodity for mine.

    Edit: Regarding your participation in the photo, your willingness might be considered you expressing consent, which is one way the use of another's personal data can be made lawful. This consent would only authorise the taking of the photo though, not the publication (unless you also agreed to this at the time it was taken).
    Last edited by sledger; 07-11-2017 at 06:13 AM.

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    I don't understand. Don't property rights just naturally come into existence when the government gets out of the way?

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    Spanish_Vicente sledger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Uppercut View Post
    I don't understand. Don't property rights just naturally come into existence when the government gets out of the way?
    Haha, this is probably best taken on by someone who actually knows more about property rights than I do, but I think you could argue in theory that this is what would happen. I mean, at the moment, "ownership" of personal data, the practical difficulties of this idea notwithstanding, is impossible because of existing laws and regulations etc. This would necessarily have to be drastically overhauled, or totally scrapped, if anyone was ever able to assert sovereignty over their data.

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    From a legal perspective absolutely. There's obviously areas of grey on the collection, storage and transfer of it all but in principle I'm fine with considering an individual's data to be their personal property, regardless of who's possession it's in.

    The monetisation perspective is a bit different. I think it makes sense theoretically (as an extension of the above) but in practice it would be insanely complicated to administer for a minute benefit to the individual. Data is valuable as it scales, a single person's information is worth very little. You'd either need government intervention (no thanks) or people to voluntarily sign up to a private body that has it's tendrils in the plethora of areas our data could potentially be residing in, all to deliver a few dollars a year (a completely made up figure ftr) into people's pockets. Such systems would also be vulnerable to being gamed. Just seems like too much work for too little gain.

    At the same time I think the massive social media platforms make unimaginable amounts of money siphoning this stuff off, so I wouldn't be surprised to see someone else find a way to deliver a better option for both the consumer, the advertiser and (where applicable) the content creator.
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