Mine, Yours, and Ours

October 7, 2010

Every status update you enter into Facebook belongs to Facebook. Every restaurant review you give to Yelp.com belongs to Yelp. Every product review you write on Amazon.com belongs to Amazon. Every tweet belongs to Twitter. These companies gather and store your information because it has commercial value.

How many people reading this would rather control their own information? I’d like to know, because I wonder if there’s a market for a free service that lets you own your information. In this service, called a personal data locker (or personal data store), you would enter your own reviews, status updates, location data, etc., and you would be in control of it. If you wanted your status update to go straight through your Facebook account, it would do that for you, but you would still have your own version of it. You could send the same review to ten different review sites, rather than having to cut and paste it from one to the next (logging in each time). Moreover, you could expose your reviews online or to your groups of friends directly on the web, without having to go through a web site like Facebook.

In this world, which we’re building using the standards coming out of PersonalDataStore.info, there are three kinds of content:

Mine is everything I generate that I want to keep, manage, search, and delete if I want to.

Ours is everything I participate in with others. In this diagram, “ours” refers to all the information in the world that I didn’t create. It should be a zillion times bigger than “mine,” but for this diagram I simply made it big and continuing out of the frame. A conversation is shared – if we have a conversation, you own it as much as I do. A photo is shared by the people in it and the photographer. A medical prescription is shared with my doctor – neither of us should be able to delete it without the other’s permission. My school records should be owned by me and my schools. My car’s maintenance history should be mine and the service organization’s – it shouldn’t be owned or controlled by the manufacturer. Every place I go – my location data – is mine, although if you recognize me and have proof that I have been somewhere, that could become another source of my location data. In some cases, if all parties agree, the thing being shared could be deleted permanently. In others, government regulations require permanent records. Importantly, all parties should be able to participate in the privacy and rights associated with things that are shared. This sounds fairly cut and dried, but there will be huge gray areas and, I predict, several Supreme Court cases over data rights in coming years.

Yours is everything else out there in the universe. Most stuff is stuff I have no control over. One interesting aspect is that I think computer programs generally belong on this list. Programs should exist online and not have my data stuck in them, as they do today. Instead, they should come to me, work with my data (and, perhaps, the data of many other people), and then leave. I should be able to offer my data to many different kinds of programs, all of which leave my data on my server under my control. It doesn’t take much imagination to see this could get complicated, but I claim it’s actually a lot more complicated today.

The personal data locker is how we will manage what’s ours and what’s shared. I have made an 8-minute video showing the personal data locker vision. I’m not sharing it with the world, because I want people in the audiences at my talks to see it for the first time. But if you’re interested in seeing it, please contact me, tell me a bit about yourself, and I’ll probably share it with you.

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