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Tuesday, June 16th. 2015  Kenneth E. Lamb
Tuesday, June 16th. 2015  Kenneth E. Lamb

Data privacy: Personal data - who actually owns it?

As a major report emerges today on surveillance and individual privacy, experts continue to argue over the rights of states and businesses to access personal data - and who actually owns it.

In the commercial sphere, one argument says the investment by businesses in gathering and exploiting information about individuals gives them a degree of ownership over the data.

"You say it's yours but I the company - Amazon or Netflix or whoever - am making the investment to collect that data. I built the software, I did the data storage, so it's also mine," Stephen Brobst, Teradata CTO and former member of Barack Obama's President's Innovation and Technology Advisory Committee, told a round-table debate organised by the data and analytics firm this week in London.

That investment should also have a bearing on what happens to the data once the relationship between the consumer and the business ends or the individual want to move that information elsewhere.

"Let's say I'm Netflix and I collect lots of data about the kind of movies you want to watch and I provide you with a service by delivering a recommendation engine that gives you good viewing choices and all that kind of stuff, if I collect that data to provide a service to you, it shouldn't be that my competitor should benefit from all this investment that I've made," Brobst said.

That's my asset and [other businesses] shouldn't be able to see the data that I've collected about the viewing habits of people who are my customers."

Chief executive at campaigning body Privacy International Dr Gus Hosein said at least in a Netflix-type arrangement the individual has made an initial choice and established a contractual arrangement with the entity collecting the data - unlike the situation with internet-of-things technology.

"The current ambitions of those with money and those with

aspirations to spend our money are that they want sensors everywhere. They want unlimited data collection and controls merely on use," he said.

"The only way we're all going to be able to stem collection and stem deployment is by the compulsion that it has to be open and the implication of it being open is you don't want just anybody being able to place an entire city under surveillance."

That principle of transparency is going to be increasingly important for privacy, particularly with the impending introduction of new European data-protection laws, according to partner at Irwin Mitchell and expert in data privacy law Joanne Bone.

"Very broad privacy policies are going to become a thing of the past because one of the big things from the new data-protection regulation - if it ever happens - is transparency. A big part of it is the emphasis on transparency," she said.

"One of the parts of it is you can't put really long privacy policies that mean nothing to anybody. It's meant to be clear, it's meant to be transparent."


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