It’s no wonder our data is abused; we treat it like trash. That’s the way a friend described the info he shared with websites, governments, and corporations. “It’s all garbage to me,” he said, admitting that the answers he submitted via websites were often bullshit. I think he failed to understand that even “garbage” has value. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, as they say.
More importantly, he expressed a view held by 95 percent of people that information about themselves they give away for free, such as their height, weight, where they went to school, their favorite color, even their lies and falsehoods, has no intrinsic value. Nothing could be further from the truth. If we treated facts about ourselves as property, in the same way we treat personal items, our money, and our real property, we’d be much more careful about sharing data. Governments and corporations would also treat it more carefully as well.
Walter De Brouwer understands this. He’s a scientist and engineer who’s developed the Scanadu Scout, a way for individuals to store long-term medical data about themselves. Wired.com published an interview with him earlier this month. The Scanadu system has some interesting possibilities in medicine, but what interests me is how it treats the data. De Brouwer is very clear:
We don’t store the data. Everybody has to store it for themselves. It’s your data. Every time you check yourself, (the data) goes through our algorithms but we don’t keep it… There’s a big debate now about who owns the data and I don’t understand the debate. It comes out of our bodies. We should own it.
Furthermore, personal responsibility for your own medical data opens the possibility of selling the data to the highest bidder. “[P]eople will be able to sell themselves, especially if you have a rare disease, because there will be a market for clinical trial testing,” De Brouwer says. “It will be a bit like the eBay for bodies.”
The principle of personal ownership of data and creating a market for that data is extensible to all the data we produce, not just medical data. But right now, most people just give it away. Even a single click has value, but we have a throwaway society when it comes to data. No wonder governments and corporations care so little about protecting it.