By Ritesh Bawri
Every day you generate lots of information about, well, you. Who you are, what you like, what you watch, what you read, where you go, when you sleep. The information is endless. There was a time when only your near and dear ones knew anything about you. Through physical observations. Perhaps, if you had written a letter or a book, the recipients or reader might have learnt a little more about you. That has completely changed. Tethered to your phone, laptop, tablet, watch and the Internet you are now telling everyone about yourself. So who owns your data?
Is it yours because you generated it? Is it yours because all the data is uniquely about you? Or does it belong to say the email service provider you use? The email is free and one of the reasons it is free is because the price you are paying is with your information. Tim Cook famously said, “You are not the customer, you are the product” to indicate that your information is being productised. The email vendor would argue that they provided the service for free and would have charged you otherwise. Their service terms would clearly indicate that every bit of information they have collected about you is theirs to keep. It is a fair exchange for the service provided.
Privacy is a complicated topic. If you are seeking a home loan because you have finally achieved the ability to buy a home, you would happily provide all the information the bank asks. It is your need to buy the home and the bank is taking a risk by betting you will repay. So far things are fine, as long as the information is restricted to the bank. Then, the bank uses the information to cross-sell insurance. Next, it partners with an airline company to sell airline tickets. Finally, it might sell the information perhaps at an aggregate level to third parties who mine it to glean information about consumer behaviour. At which point did your privacy get violated?
The answers can vary. Research shows that people tend to vary in their response to privacy questions. If you prompt someone and ask “would you give your information to anyone who asked” you would clearly get a response that said no. However, in reality, there are people at both ends of the spectrum. Those who are more than happy to post pictures of themselves and their children on social media and those who are not even on social media. So should privacy rules be governed by your right to choose? Since it is personal, perhaps you should have the right to decide what happens with it?
Blockchain-driven technology is a good possible answer. Blockchain allows for authentication of data at every level. You could create protocols for each individual to determine the manner in which their information is released, to whom, why, when and where. If you don’t want people knowing more about you, set it to no release. If you wish to release it for a purpose you can do so and then you can have the ability to track what happened to it thereafter using blockchain. This way, each individual can get to decide if the information is being used appropriately and the value they get in exchange for it is fair.
In 2000, my sister Malvika and I wrote a patent on this. The ability for an individual to create a product out of their information. Once done, they could then decide whether to release the information and if so on what terms. Perhaps the time has come for this to be built.
Ritesh Bawri is Founder and CEO of Quantta Analytics, an AI enabled Big Data platform.
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius