Cyborg rights activist Aral Balkan argues that companies have taken full advantage of this opacity and stolen data to use like speculative capital in the online marketplace. He points to the tangible market value our aggregated personal data has for data-controllers. Technologist Jaron Lanier takes this theory to its conclusion. In his book Who Owns the Future? he proposes that Silicon Valley giants deliver micropayments to its users in recompense for their keystrokes, search history and personal data. This would not just change the way data-controllers perceive users, but radically alter their business model.
Wired magazine co-founder Kevin Kelly offers an alternative framework to understand the issue. In our complex information age, he denies the practical possibility that data can be ‘owned’ but does admit that our relationship with big companies can be 'asymmetrical' and lack mutual benefit. In a podcast from The Guardian earlier this year, Kelly stated that we should strive for a more equitable and ‘symmetrical’ relationship between data-controllers and subjects with mutual, civil benefits. For instance, a symmetrical relationship exists when we trade our personal data with Netflix for helpful, personalised recommendations for what to watch.
The effectiveness of Facebook’s proposed privacy centre should be judged not on its adept centralisation of checkboxes and complex privacy statements. The more valuable prize for the company would be to deliver a participatory, engaging and educative framework – a renewed social contract with shared responsibility for the provenance and value of personal data.
Brands must take this opportunity to engage in proactive and educational programmes with civic groups and individuals. GDPR offers the perfect springboard for them to start a conversation about how the provenance of data can be respected, and the accrued advantages more equitably distributed.
Rosamund Picton and Kourosh Newman-Zand are co-founders of semiotics agency Axis-Mundi. Look out for more of our analysis of what GDPR will mean for brands from May.
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