March 12, 2011

The right to oblivion

Yesterday at this NCUA ICANN meeting in SF the right to oblivion was mentioned several times. It seems to be on people's minds as they try to figure out what privacy and data control mean to companies, to users, to privacy advocates and regulators.

Peter Fleischer who is Google's Global Privacy Counsel wrote a post on this topic: "Foggy Thinking about the Right to Oblivion" and I think he missed something very important in the discussion where people want to be "let alone." He mostly focuses on explicit data, the kind that user's put out there knowingly. But there is also implicit data, that users expect will stay within a website, and yet doesn't.

So I left this comment, but wanted to post it here as well:

I think you are missing an important distinction. There is data a user puts on the web: a facebook comment, a tweet, a flickr photo, etc. And there is data the user didn't expect to go anywhere except stay with the business they do or did business with:

* geolocation logs from one's mobile carrier
* purchases made with a vendor
* financial statements and the various actions one takes with bill pay, online banking and financial organization
* search activity logs
* an email address given to Facebook to be used as a login

The problem is that users expect that this data will stay with the obvious parties: you purchase something and your data should stay with the vendor and the shipping company. But the reality is your data is being sold all over, beacons are all over the purchase site, and you have no notice at all. Much less consent, except in some privacy policy you cannot begin to understand.

Or Facebook gives your email address to Rapleaf who matches it with activities all over the web. You have no idea, nor did you expect this.

Or you search on your mom's medical condition and now the beacons have transmitted the info to advertisers and pharmaceutical companies.

And you thought deleting your cookies would help. A complete waste of time now with flash cookies, beacons and fingerprinting of your computer.

What I think user's want is the right to control their own data. The right to ask that it be deleted after a period. The right to correct it if something is wrong, and the right to hold it, so they may store it in a personal data store (PDS).

And why, you ask, would anyone use a PDS? Well.. do you use Mint, or Dopplr, or Trippit, or have a mileage account? For that last one, you can get amazing things like free hotel room or plane tickets or even goods like flowers. We already use personal data stores now.. just very primitive ones. And we want the ability to trade our data because we might get a free book or discounted things. Those markets are yet to be sorted out.. but the apps to make that work are coming.

There is a lot to work out here, but there is a Personal Data Ecosystem coming.. companies are building for it, and frankly, we do need a little regulatory help on the side to support user's rights to their data.

And to keep sites, like the examples above, from sending your data off site through beacons and trackers or other data agreements. Instead, Ad companies should be sending websites a black box to process user data internally, and then pick relevant ads, so that sites never have their user's data leaving the site for any reason, unless the user takes it to their PDS.

It's the right thing to do for people.

Posted by Mary Hodder at March 12, 2011 06:42 AM | TrackBack

The question really, though, is - whose data is it?

The data about a financial transaction belongs to at least 2 parties (the buyer and the seller) and maybe three (the bank facilitating the transaction via a credit card).

Before anyone can hope to proclaim data use policies it's very necessary to define who are the concerned parties.

Posted by: David Kearns at March 12, 2011 08:33 AM

You are right that there are questions about ownership depending on the data.

However, it may not matter. What matters is that ad companies and "partners" don't have a right to the data and aren't "concerned parties" to the dataI create by using a service. And user's do have a right to the data, at least to have a copy, say when they want it deleted (within parameters), correct the data, and use it in their personal data stores.


Posted by: Mary Hodder at March 12, 2011 08:43 AM