“The physicality of data and the path to ownership of personal data” was originally published from Forbes, July 2, 2021 David Krueger is the co-founder and vice president of Strategy for Absio Corporation and co-inventor of Absio’s software-defined distributed key cryptography (SDKC).
This article is the first in a series on the physicality of data. I will continue with additional installments from this series over the next few weeks, so check back to see when they become available.
We all tend to confuse the word ‘data’ with the word ‘information’. This is usually fine, but shrinking computer data and information into one thing, rather than two separate things, makes it difficult to properly think about data ownership.
Therefore: Information is perceived in our minds. The software digitizes the information used by humans by encoding language, sound and images into binary models of ones and zeros. He applies these models to physical things: transistors, electrical pulses, light or radio waves, magnetized particles, and microscopic pits on CDs / DVDs. These physical data objects are “quantum small” but are physically like bricks. Software can create and manage data objects because their physical properties are predictable and, most importantly, controllable. Why is this important? Because if we cannot physically control the use of our personal data, actual possession of data is impossible.
Since your personal computer data is physical, imagine for a moment that you can control it as you drive your car. Cars, like most physical objects, have three areas of control: use, access, and rules. You can use your car – drive it, drive it, stop it and control access by locking it. Usage and access controls are inherent because they are built by the manufacturer. The rules are public control over the use of cars, such as stop signs, driver’s licenses, property rights and rental agreements. The controllability of your car is what allows you to own it, and the possession codified in the law is property. The rules establish legal and illegal uses. Civil and criminal rules are applied by the judiciary.
The property is available in four flavors. The first is actual possession: you, using your car. The second, constructive possession, is governed by rules. You can grant conditional use of your car to another, but the recipient must comply with your rules and public rules, including how long, for what use, compensation due for the use of your car and traffic laws. The third is criminal possession, using your car without a permit. The fourth is transferable possession: buying or selling cars.
The obvious question is, “If my personal information is physical and controllable, why can’t I control it like my car?”
Here’s a little history: human information was first digitized in the early 1950s. This primitive software did not provide built-in data controls and analog brakes, steering or locks. The only control applied was access to the software, not the data. Therefore, anyone with access to the software can reopen, read, modify, delete or copy data without restriction. Because the data was transmitted by making a copy and saving it to other computers, each copy was also unrestricted for reuse. Such data was inherently uncontrollable, simply because the software did not control it, and that was the problem.
Almost 70 years later, most software still creates data without built-in controls.
Two obvious questions arise:
- Can the software really make controllable data?
- If software can make controllable data, why not?
The answer to the first question is simple: the data is physical, so, of course, it can. One example is controlling access to encrypted data. Encryption changes the physical structure of the data to make it lockable. Analogs of brakes and steering and rules can also be added.
The answer to the second question is more complicated. The first reason is that people don’t want software vendors to make data controllable because they don’t know it’s possible, much less desirable. Few people consider computer data to be physical; they consider the information provided by a computer in their minds and the physical data of the computers to be equivalent. This problem is easily solved in a few minutes with the help of simple explanations and analogies. Did you distinguish the information from the physical data on a computer before reading this?
The second reason is more problematic. Our inability to own and control our personal data has led to a loss of any semblance of confidentiality when it comes to our online activities and increasingly the confidentiality of our activities in the real world. Unfortunately, we are surrounded and carry devices for continuous surveillance wherever we go; we call them smartphones and smart devices.
In the past, confidentiality was usually understood as the ability of an individual to keep certain information about himself or to share it selectively within a trusted relationship: friends, family and professionals such as doctors, lawyers and selected business relationships. Reading someone’s diary or eavesdropping on private conversations has always been characterized as a breach of confidentiality, as well as improper disclosure of personal information by someone we trust. In this sense, digital privacy can be reasonably defined as the ability of a person to control by whom, for what purpose and for how long his personal data can be used.
How is confidentiality lost? Currently, some of the most powerful corporations in the world operate software platforms and sell software. Almost everywhere, they force us to give up our privacy as a price to enter their markets for goods, services, knowledge and ideas.
How did they do it? Taking full advantage of:
- The uncontrollability of the data.
- People who do not know that they can physically control and therefore own and own their personal data if platforms or software vendors allow them to do so.
- The constant chatter from platforms and software vendors about how deeply they care about privacy is an amazing feat of double talk.
People are increasingly distrustful of platforms and software vendors who are depriving their users of their privacy rights and constantly monitoring them. This is evidenced by regulations such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act, not to mention the “rise of privacy technology.” Look for this phrase and you’ll find hundreds of startups and venture capital dollars pouring like water into the privacy technology space.
So what is the path to data ownership? This is a break in the free market of the old order: new (or repentant) platforms and providers of search, social media, and software that include physically applicable privacy and data ownership.
Build it and we will come.
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You may also want to read: How irreplaceable tokens (NFT) can be made. works better? Bernard Fixer offers twelve steps to working with NFT in a way that eliminates cryptocurrency-based blockchains and works in common online markets such as eBay. According to Fickser, NFTs can work if they avoid self-serving cryptocurrency blockchains like Ethereum and allow legal transfers of ownership in the real world.