Monday, February 16, 2009

It's my data not yours!

Like many of you, I've been using 'web 2.0' sites for some time now. My use of them seems to be increasing and expanding of late. They allow someone like myself, who spends alot of time stuck in front of a computer, to maintain some degree of social interaction, express my interests and thus hold my sanity at bay.

In fact, I've come to like these new online offerings so much, that I want to do more!! For instance, I've been playing around with the idea of keeping an online journal for some time now. Having chosen a service that I liked; 'Penzu' , I realised that after keeping entries for more than a week, I had no assurance as to the integrity and access to data in the event of this service ceasing. The site gave no assurance about data portability or policy with regard to cessation of service. Then, I came across this interesting article by Bill Thompson over at the BBC See article:

He rightly raised the issue of data portability concluding that web site developers should do more. (Data Portability concerns the ability for user data to be transferred to another service, or downloaded by the user.) However I think he failed to fully argue what should be done about this issue. For example, if your data and/or intellectual property resides on a free online site, and that service changes its offering; is it made transparent and simple if you decide to jump ship to another offering? If your data and/or intellectual property resides on an online website and that website goes bust, will your data be kept safe and retrievable?

We already have some national government policies in place concerning the protection, control and privacy of data to individuals. However, I feel it should also be up to government to protect citizens with regard to movement, ownership and integrity of user data. For instance, more needs to be done to ensure that website owners have a required responsibility from the outset; to provide data portability and maintain this ability even after termination of service. Perhaps, this would require that the government step in and provide servers to back up user data in the event of a company ceasing. This could be in tandem with services (new or old) being required to ensure data integrity in the case of termination of service etc. Issues like ownership of data also needs to be addressed.

It is often argued that government should not inhibit the market, but I argue that the government should steer the market, maximising the longterm interests of it's citizens. Thus, I don't see a problem with positive interference in the market. The role of government is afterall to balance the realms of life. This is in view of citizens becoming increasingly reliant on the market, and thus, on online commercial offerings to function and stay abreast of modern society. Of course the supra national nature of the web, will require the need for supranational cooperation on any kind of intervention. Political intervention may quicken the pace of progress on these issues, it could also ensure that data rights and opt-out facilities are apparent and transparent to citizens. Finally, certain government measures may benefit both users and service offerings in the long term, by instilling confidence. For instance, a service like Penzu would perhaps better thrive if minimum requirements were in place, granted the details of any technical standards is a messy and arduous business. This kind of confidence, that individuals have certain assurances; would in aggregate serve to speed up adoption of existing and emerging services. It would also assure vigilance, in the face of further encroachment of the market into everyday life.

Copyright © 2006-2009 Shane McLoughlin. This article may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission.

See; Facebook retain right to user data after account deletion


Dave said...

I don't feel that governments should have a role in data portability. If a website wants to lock you into their service then that's fair game in my opinion. If there's demand for data portability then the market and consumer demand will drive it. The vast majority of social networks do actually provide data portability (through a data API), the problem is that at the moment there isn't a standards-based approach that has been widely adopted. This will happen, given time. Government intervention would only stifle this and lead to hap-hazard solutions in my opinion.

shane mc loughlin said...

Good points!!!

I feel though that a government role would protect those less computer and information literate, like teens/preteens/elderly etc. The web is an increasingly complex setting and whats good for the market isn't always whats good for individuals and society.

Furthermore, it might take the intertervention of politics or subpolitics into the market to positively steer the direction and development of online commerce. For example, measures to quicken standardisation of portability, and protection of data's integrity (in the event of cessation of service), would actually instill confidence in these services, but crucially act to quicken desired change.

Shane Butler said...

While I like the idea of portable data, I worry that this would just add to the control that government has on citizens instead of citizens controlling the government as originally established.

If the government provided the servers what would keep them from looking at and/or using the information/data we keep there?

Also, would the government raise taxes to provide such a service even though server space is relatively low cost these days?

Would it be better if the goverment just provided training/information to people on how to keep their data safe and portable through existing services?

shane mc loughlin said...

Made a few ammendments to the article, particularly the conclusion in light of the comments! Thanks again for taking the time to do so!! Shane