Data is the new oil, and we humans are the wells. Our digital crude is a rich brew of mundane, everyday activities — our searches, texts and tweets — along with the GPS coordinates from our phones, the biometric information we share with fitness devices, even the IP addresses of our connected refrigerators. To the average person, this raw material is undetectable noise. But for organizations that know how to identify signals, there’s immense value in refining what has become an unlimited supply.

Understanding what data we create, and how others exploit it, is vitally important. Soon, powerful machine-learning algorithms and artificially intelligent systems will analyze our data to reach decisions about and for us: whether we qualify for a bank loan, whether we’re likely to commit a crime, whether we deserve an organ transplant. And unlike us, machines aren’t burdened with an emotional attachment to privacy.

In DATA FOR THE PEOPLE, Andreas Weigend proposes six data rights to empower people to make better decisions:

  • The right to access your data
  • The right to inspect data refineries
  • The right to amend data
  • The right to blur your data
  • The right to experiment with the refineries
  • The right to port your data

By understanding these rights, individuals will see how both sides—data creators and data companies—stand to benefit from more transparency. Weigend argues that many efforts to opt out of data tracking and collection are not necessarily the best for the individual. We have come to rely on big data services to help us decide which goods and services match our wants and needs; we turn to data companies to help us get from to our desired destination, whether we’re looking for a ride across town or a lifelong romantic partner.

Data companies help us make better decisions—but they can only do this if people allow some of their data to be used by the refineries. In exchange, we need tools and mechanisms that allow us to weigh the risks, costs and benefits, with far more latitude to decide exactly how much, with whom, and for what purpose we share our data trails.

The more the data companies record about each one of us, the more we exist, the more we can know about ourselves. The real issues are how to ensure that the data companies are as transparent to us as we are to them, and that we have some say in how our data are used.”


January 1, 2020