The coming data ownership wars


Last week, New York Times blogger Nick Bilton--reacting to the massive infusion of money from the Facebook IPO--asked Mark Zuckerberg for his cut, which he worked out to be around $50. While Bilton probably had his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, he brought up a greater problem than being paid for your data: who actually owns and controls it.

In another New York Times article that same day, writer Lori Andrews came right out and said Facebook is using you for your data (in case you didn't realize that already).

And that, my friends, is going to be a much larger discussion around Big Data in the days and years ahead. In fact, if you think the battle over content ownership has rocked the Internet, I believe concepts of data ownership will be even larger, and this will be particularly acute in Europe where the concept of privacy is far different from the U.S--where they even have an E.U. Privacy Supervisor.

Just recently Google ran afoul of its users, and E.U. and U.S. politicians when it decided to change and simplify its privacy policy to allow Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) services to share information in way that wasn't possible before. Under the new policy, for instance, when you enter a term in Google search, it remembers it when you go to other Google services such as YouTube--and might make suggestions based on that. And as The Washington Post pointed out, there's no way to opt out.

But Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan, a guy who knows a thing or two about search, thinks we all might overreacting to this notion of opting out. He points out that it's still possible to use many Google services without even signing in (although if you're like me and you use a lot of Google services, you tend be logged into Google most of the time).

In a Talking Points Memo article, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) was quoted as saying he had a rather different view of data privacy, suggesting that users should be able to opt out.

And there you have it, the battle over data collection, and by extension, who owns and controls what happens to that data rages on across front pages and websites. In the Halls of Power some are saying we should have a right to opt out and others suggesting that maybe we should just get over it because that's the trade-off we make for free services, whether we acknowledge it or not.

And it's not just Google and Facebook. They are just the poster children for this problem.

The fact is that we are sharing more and more data. As a recent Wired article pointed out, not only are we sharing directly with these services, very often we might be granting permission to other services to access our data, which is the case every time you grant a Facebook application access to your account or use your Twitter account to sign onto a service because it's easier than creating a new log-on. And we often don't know to what extent these outside businesses are using our data.

I don't claim to have any easy answers to this dilemma, short of ending your relationship with these mammoth data collection services--an impossibility for many of us who at this point are inextricably linked to these services in both our personal and professional lives. But make no mistake, the tongue-in-cheek calls for payment and the calls by politicians we have heard in recent weeks, these are just the rallying cries of a larger movement.

And very soon we are going to be fighting some more serious battles in the war for data ownership. Mark my words. - Ron