Who actually owns your personal data? Certainly not you

 
Beth Hepple
Source: Getty

Big businesses own us. Many of us feel like Facebook and Google have us pinned. They know everything about us, they can use our data however they want, and there’s no escape.

Or is there? The reality is, we are on the brink of a major switch from corporate data ownership to individual ownership. People are taking back control of the data that is rightfully theirs.

Presently, companies are making huge profits by harvesting and selling our personal data. Data brokers such Equifax and Experian collect it to create profiles on us, which are then sold to other firms for advertising and marketing campaigns. Our phone numbers, demographics, purchase histories – more or less anything – can be wrapped up in a nice little text file and sent on its way to make us a target.

But much of the time, the data collected by these information brokers isn’t a true reflection of us. Indeed, a lot of it is either false or out-of-date, which is why advertisers can sometimes get it really wrong. But May 2018 is just around the corner. It’s a milestone date, when the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation introduces new rules around personal data. The change is long overdue, and will be a catalyst for radical change in the data economy. Consumer attitudes towards the companies who hold and utilise our data have already started to shift.

We increasingly hear the cliche “data is like oil”. But just because people say something, doesn’t mean it’s right. Oil belongs back in the last century, when the Industrial Era was at its peak. We’re now in the Information Age, and what we want is clean, fresh, and flowing data (more like water than oil).

Technologies like blockchain are moving the world away from big centralised silos into a more distributed and real-time network of people and information. New, headline grabbing, business models such as Uber and Airbnb are more about managing flows of supply and demand than owning and stockpiling physical inventory.

If we get it right, we’ll transition to a world where we are empowered by our data in a way that enhances our lives significantly. Consequently, we could see the major players of the data world dethroned to make way for new, ethical data players that facilitate flows of our data on our terms. Our research shows that consumers are beginning to shift away from monolithic incumbents, and are seeking trust and value from brands that operate at a more authentic human level – those that matter to them personally.

As citizens, we are about to be put in the driving seat of our own data travels. It’s going to get really exciting.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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