Who Owns our Personal Data?
Personal information and data stored in the cloud have an inherent high ‘tradable’ value – they facilitate the discovery of patterns. We trust the providers and processors and distributors of the data, they retrieve our personal data and they can and do use it. Our data is now a tradable asset. But who owns the information? In Chapter 12 of our 2010 book Political Economy of Law http://www.elgaronline.com/view/9781848445215.xml we had discussed property rights and consumer e-needs in an Internet era arguing for the integration of the economics of information into legal reasoning. There is a new challenge for the law, relying on ‘material facts at time period t when technology has already taken the market to time period t+T (pp306)’. Google believes that the information it is harvesting is its own by virtue of the harvesting. But you and I, as e-consumers, have claim rights to our personal data. Data exchange has become a transaction and we need to ask: who benefits from the trade in our personal data?
At the recent Midland’s Think Tank http://midastechnologies.ie/agenda/ in Mullingar, Ireland, I raised this issue in the context of how we could use this market exchange to our advantage in Ireland? A cloud services free trade zone [FTZ] in personal data and data patterns was presented as worthy of consideration.
At the Think Tank a range of interesting presentations were outlined and provided a great platform to showcase the greatest technology advance since the 1980s digital revolution – the Internet and all its applications. The Internet is part of our daily lives. Not only is it the screen in front of us but also the back infrastructure of wires and machines. We were told that there is an exponential growth in data and a reliance on data. Individuals are outsourcing memory to smart devices such as smartphones and tablets; we are reliant on pre-authorised smartcards, buying tools and Apps to support basic queries and purchases. SEPA when rolled out will smooth electronic transactions. Companies are migrating from in-house IT to outsourcing data storage.
We have become datified…..
In the June 2013 edition of Foreign Affairs the authors Cukier and Mayer-Schoenberger argued that we have become datified – Google’s augmented-reality glasses datify our gaze, Twitter datifies our thoughts and LinkedIN and Facebook datify our professional and personal networks. Datification, we contend, is a pre-requisite for third parties as they begin to extract an inherent ‘tradable’ value in our data patterns. But who owns the information? Do Google and Facebook, for example, own our data? The EU Commission in their definition of ‘personal data’ in the Internet era are debating the traditional rules of data protection viz 2014 General Data Protection Regulation. Commissioner for Justice, Viviane Reding, commented recently in Global Insight that ‘personal data is the currency of the digital economy’ and that by 2020 it will account for 8% of EU-27 GDP.
Our data is at least worth the equivalent of 8% of EU-27 GDP before exchange and trading. Tradable personal data is a good example of the frozen market concept introduced in Political Economy of Law. Frozen markets uniquely evolve from ‘a latent underbelly of technology struggling to meet new challenges and set new standards in a modern economy (pp312)’. We should recognise the frozen market and persuade governments to transfer the trade in personal data to a cloud services free trade zone in personal data and data patterns. With so many start-ups and legacy IT companies in Ireland, there may be an opportunity to bring them all together under one umbrella – a cloud services free trade zone, providing storage solutions, security and surveillance capabilities. The cloud zone could be designed as a ‘special services’ zone similar to the Shannon FTZ. All IT companies registered would enjoy a 3 -5 year sunset clause of special tax incentives for employing IT staff. Information would be stored and processed into data patterns in the cloud zone. It is only when the data is traded does it become subject to Irish value-added tax or custom duties.
Free Trade Zone in Personal Data…
Mixing a tablespoon of skilled labour with a dose of FTZ is a recipe for baking the projected 8% of EU-27 GDP into an employment cake of highly productive Stakhanovite workers in the age of automation, technology and innovation.
One way to integrate the complexity and potential of the cloud is the organisation of a cloud free trade zone, subject to legal, regulatory and environmental issues. It could be established under an Irish or pan-European variant of the US inspired 2009 Alternative Site Framework [ASF] initiative, by re-organising the Shannon FTZ into an alternative site framework in cloud services spread across ‘magnet sites’ from Mullingar to the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal. In this the 50th anniversary year of the Shannon FTZ it could be part of planning for the next fifty years of economic growth in Ireland reliant in part on personal data as a tradable asset. Data security is paramount and our reliance on the data-keepers is dependent on trust and on transparency in their use of our personal data. A cloud services FTZ in personal data could provide both trust and transparency. Questions may arise – do we really own our personal data patterns? Who benefits from any trade in our personal data? Answers should be diverted into exploring options that will create new job opportunities in an Internet age characterised by a shrinking role for human labour.