Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Dennis McDonald's "Personal Data Ownership" Posts

Dennis McDonald's "Personal Data Ownership" Posts

By Dennis D. McDonald

One of the longest running blogging interests I’ve had is “personal data ownership” — the idea that people who communicate online should be able to own and manage information about themselves. If they want to publish and sell their personal data, or take advantage of its commercial value, they should be able to do so. If they prefer not to make such information available, they should have the right to keep that information private as well.

This issue of personal data ownership may not be new, but recent revelations about Facebooks’ Beacon program have raised a stink in the blogosphere.

The following is a list of blog posts I’ve tagged with the category tag “personal data ownership.” These are arranged by date, starting with the earliest post (you can see a list complete with introductory paragraphs here):

MARCH 4, 2005: Identity Theft and the Licensing of Personal Information

MARCH 16, 2005: Proposed: A Choice-Based Approach to Controlling the Commercial Exploitation of Personal Data

MARCH 24, 2005: What is “Personal Data?”

APRIL 11, 2005: Who Controls Personal Data?

MAY 19, 2006: Should We Be Able to Buy and Sell our Personal Financial and Medical Data?

JULY 29, 2007: Do We Need “Portable Relationship Maps” for Social Networks?

AUGUST 1, 2007: More Thoughts on Developing a Social Network “Portable Relationship Map” Standard

SEPTEMBER 6, 2007: Apple, iPods, and Personal Data Portability

NOVEMBER 2, 2007: Google OpenSocial, Collaboration, and Expertise Location

NOVEMBER 23, 2007: The Growth of Online Social Networks in the Real World

I was originally attracted to this topic partly out of concern for personal privacy and partly because of the reality of how much personal data is already being bought and sold with little public awareness. At one time I thought that the idea behind copyright law, because it deals with intellectual property, might be extended to address ownership of personal data, but I no longer believe this is possible.

My simple idea is that people should be able to buy and sell access to their personal, financial, and medical information. To be able to do that, their ownership rights must first be defined in law, and I am not convinced that the current mix of laws dealing with intellectual property, privacy, and public access are sufficient to cover the type of buying and selling situations I envision.

At the bottom of my concern about this issue is that someone is making money off the ability to match my personal and behavioral data. That irks me. I want the ability to get a “piece of the action” if I do allow my data to be used, bought, and sold.


Facebook is not the Devil Incarnate

Architecting Online Systems for User Experience, Happiness, and Buying Shoes