On the quest to data ownership, lots of questions lie ahead

Companies are collecting ever more data on end users, through mobile devices, connected devices, sensors and other inputs. While some people appreciate what companies are doing with the data, end users don’t necessarily know what companies are collecting. In a discussion on data science in San Francisco on Thursday, some panelists thought out loud about what it might look like if more data were shared.

“What does it mean to own data?” said Andreas Weigend, a lecturer at Stanford University and formerly chief scientist at Amazon.com. (s amzn) “… Does it mean I can do with it whatever I want to do with it?”

Weigend went on to ask if people would be able to rent out their data and make some money off it. Weigend has been thinking a lot about the subject of data ownership and expects to address that topic and others in a forthcoming book, “Our Data.” Different industries have different standards, and those could shift, Weigend told me later.

After the talk, I couldn’t help but wonder about what Weigend called “a cloud-like store of person-level data,” or what some people refer to as a data locker or simply a personal cloud. Here are some questions that came to mind:

  • Should companies go beyond the data they already share — purchases, bank transactions, phone calls and so on and disclose what it’s silently tracking? Weigend likens that sort of data to crude oil, which requires complex processing before consumers can use it to drive their cars, but some people might like to see what companies are collecting.
  • Should companies — take insurers, for example — have to tell customers what indicators they look for as they make decisions, so customers could learn how to change their behavior to get lower rates or prices? Or should this be proprietary?
  • If data is going to be made available, where should it be kept? Should governments have to make a certain amount of an online storage available for each person, or should private companies offer that service?
  • How quickly would data be updated in a personal locker or repository?
  • To take a step back, would enough consumers want this sort of information enough for businesses to feel compelled to spend time and money making it possible? If people don’t speak out about this, the window of opportunity for setting standards could close.

It might not be the easiest thing in the world to get businesses into the habit of disclosing to customers the data they keep. But as the internet of things gets bigger, it’s a good time for the dialogue to get louder.

Feature image courtesy of Flickr user aweigend.