Friday, March 25, 2011

Greed and the Ownership of Data

Data is a virtual set of symbolic tokens representing things in the real world. It does take some effort to type in, to correct and to store it in a large database, but ultimately the data itself is just a reflection of the world around us. In some of the Social Networking sites, the main work in collecting the data is the participants themselves. Because of that, they have an implicit say in how the data is used or abused. If they’ve chosen to trust a company enough to allow them to have the data, and they haven’t explicitly insisted that it is private data, then the presumption is that it is for public consumption. Given that the information is about things in the real world, and that it has been maintained and corrected by a third party, the only claim a site can have to it is that it has cost them something to set up the infrastructure and something to maintain the storage. Is that enough to say that they own the data?

If I’ve typed my info into a social site, and I have the expectation that the information is made public, or can be made public, then because it is information about me or some aspects of my world I find it very hard to believe that someone else can “own” it. I do understand the need to monetize their work to make back any investments, but sites have to do that with their own efforts, not mine. What’s mine is mine, and if I have given it away, then it is available for everybody, not just some clever hackers with a desire to get rich quickly. If the company had come to me, done the analysis and then all of the data entry, I could see that as a different story; they produced the information, not me. But when I am the producer, I take someone trying to stake a claim on my work as their own, as being excessively greedy. “Owning” data is questionable, but owning data that you grabbed from someone else is stepping over a line.