On Outsourcing Your Life: Who Owns Your Data?

I own my blog.  I own my fam­i­ly snap­shots.  I own my web­site.  I don’t out­source any of these things.  Some of them even run from a web serv­er in my own house because I don’t use a mass mar­ket inter­net provider that pre­vents me from doing so.  Even the whole struc­ture of the inter­net — with asym­met­ric band­width to homes dis­cour­ages this, but some peo­ple per­se­vere. Why?

Cer­tain­ly I see the oppo­site hap­pen­ing for most peo­ple.  Thou­sands of busi­ness plans from Twit­ter to Google to Face­book to LinkedIn depend on peo­ple out­sourc­ing (or cloud­sourc­ing to be trendy) their per­son­al data.  Many of these busi­ness plans use links with­in the data or adver­tis­ing to the  peo­ple or both to pro­duce mon­ey.  Is this real­ly such a bad thing?  One friend even opines that he would love to receive real­ly accu­rate­ly tar­get­ed adver­tis­ing — it would save him from doing too much research if some­one knew exact­ly what he want­ed “right now.”

There is some dis­cus­sion in cor­po­rate cir­cles about the risk of out­sourc­ing data.  Does the com­pa­ny you out­source to have your best inter­ests at heart?  Do they meet the gov­er­ment reg­u­la­to­ry require­ments for your busi­ness?  What about cor­po­rate espionage?

Should­n’t we ask the same per­son­al questions?

The prob­lem, I sup­pose, is that we want every­thing for free.  Espe­cial­ly when it’s per­son­al.  There’s no incen­tive for com­pa­nies to make easy-to-use soft­ware to do all these things for indi­vid­ual peo­ple because the big giants offer it all for free and it’s very hard to com­pete with free.  I cer­tain­ly pay that price.  I set­up my own Word­Press.  I set­up my own web­serv­er.  In terms of my snap­shots, it has often tak­en longer for me to post new pic­tures because it requires I do a bunch of things — it’s not the auto­mat­ic easy of YouTube or Facebook.

All is not lost.  My new phone (the n900) auto­mat­i­cal­ly syncs the pic­tures and videos I take to my com­put­er.  Step one of many, I know, but step one nonethe­less.  There is also a move afoot to allow more com­pe­ti­tion in the social web space — under the head­ing Dis­trib­uted Social Net­work you can find quite a bit of effort and information.

Why is this even impor­tant?  The news sto­ry that got me think­ing about this today wasTwit­ter Is Hero as Feds Attempt to Tram­ple Wik­iLeaks’ Free SpeechNow this arti­cle is talk­ing about Twit­ter doing the right thing — but it’s also talk­ing about many oth­er sites like­ly doing the wrong thing.  And that’s just it: things like “Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Let­ters” go to your ser­vice providers and are act­ed upon with­out your knowl­edge — even though the entire process con­cerns you.  And you don’t get to ever know.

The point isn’t Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Let­ters.  They’re just an exam­ple where the orga­ni­za­tion hold­ing your data has inter­ests that are not aligned with your own.  If you owned your own data, that let­ter (or that con­flict) would be addressed to you — for you to work out.

Infor­ma­tion about peo­ple is only going to become more impor­tant.  Con­trol over that infor­ma­tion will become con­trol over that indi­vid­ual.  One of the great pre­dic­tions of vir­tu­al life was that our avatars would enjoy a dis­con­nect­ed dif­fer­ent life in cyber­space.  The cru­el truth is that our online pres­ence only serves to doc­u­ment (in excru­ci­at­ing detail) our phys­i­cal one

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