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Data is Valuable, But for Whom?

For most of us who use Facebook, Google and many other social media tools and smart phone applications, agree to an exchange transaction – personal data against free services. But not all users understand the value for the disclosure of their privacy, who has control on their data, and which third-party can access their data.

For many companies, these data are worth gold. Individual and aggregated personal data allow targeted advertising, social trend analysis, behaviour investigation, movement pattern identification, and so on.

This is where the political efforts to anchor the so-called “informational self-determination” or “digital self-determination” law. The central to this is the concern to return the citizens control over their personal data.

“To demonstrate the possibilities, Helbing and Pournaras have started to build an open and participatory platform called Nervousnet, which is committed to the principle of informational self-determination.” (ETH Zurich).

Digital self-determination basically means every citizen has the right to know who owns what data about him/her. Theoretically, this right is already in practice, but it is rarely invoked. Hardly anyone has time and energy talking to every single company that potentially owns his/her data. On the other hand, the promoters of the digital self-determination are dispersed. Therefore, self-determination should an obligation of the company rather than a right to individuals.

Digital self-determination suggests that every citizen, every consumer, every user of a service should always have access to their own data and a copy of which may require – in machine-readable form. It is similar to the open data concept. However, for private companies, this concept conflicts with their monetary interests.

Privacy has always been a big challenge in the digital world, especially in the Big Data world that collects massive personal information, which makes it difficult to keep privacy or apply limitation to the use of personal information. Big Data systems themselves generally have no solution to this dilemma and treat privacy as an externality.  However, Efforts such as the Nervousnet project is emerging, which make a growing number of tools and technologies available to enable individuals in control of their personal information.

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