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Ownership of data, privacy policies and other VRM creatures

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Here are some thoughts based on what I posted to the Project VRM mailing list on the discussion about data ownership:

The ownership of data, whatever that means, is merely a starting point of VRM and our attempts to redress the balance of power between vendors and customers. I might volunteer information – to me that means I share it on my own terms – but I also need the ability to establish and
maintain relationships. For that I (others may not) need and want
the following ‘functionality’:

  1. take charge of my data (content, relationships, transactions, knowledge),
  2. arrange (analyse, manipulate, combine, mash-up) it according to my needs and preferences and
  3. share it on my own terms
  4. whilst connected and networked on the web.

That’s what I mean when I talk about turning the individual into a platform, etc etc.

This does not happen by creating a database or a data store, however personal. Store implies passive and static, even with some sort of distribution. The objective is equipping individuals with analytical and other tools to help them understand themselves better and give them an online spring board to relationships with others (in VRM context this includes vendors).

I think it’s the user who should define the nature of the data stored/shared/analysed and what data is called what – whether confidential or premium or whatever. The crucial point is being able to share it (as well as do all sorts of groovy things with it, independently of third party and without the data being hijacked, er, harvested by third parties in the process.)

In the spirit of user-driven-ness, it should be the user who determines the ‘policies’ by which his or her data is managed and shared. I don’t see why they need to be standard(ised) as my sharing preferences and tolerance are a matter of my policy* – just like security and privacy are policies, not systems, i.e. what’s secure or private to me is not necessarily the same to you and vice versa.

What happens after information/data/whatever is shared is partly provenance of the law but mostly of a relationship I have with those the data is shared with… The main issue with the latter is that it can become meaningful only if the user is the most authoritative source of his or her data. Hence I call the means of doing this the Mine!

*My take on privacy is that it is a policy of the individual, not in a sense of privacy policy for the individual selected from a given selection, in the style of Creative Commons. Huge difference. For instance, I have a policy about who I let into my house. I don’t need to display it on my doors or attach it to my address or business cards. It is far more convenient and flexible for me to decide there and then, when someone’s knocking at the door. It is my implicit privacy policy that kicks in. Sure, I don’t want junk mail or door-to-door salesmen but just because I can display notices to that effect, doesn’t mean that is the way to deal with the rest of the humankind. So online, it is about creating tools that help the individual control the data to the point that he/she decides practically and directly who gets to see what – without a third party or intermediary…

cross-posted from VRM Hub

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3 Responses to “Ownership of data, privacy policies and other VRM creatures”

  1. Jackie Danicki » Privacy - the real deal
    on Sep 1st, 2008
    @ 19:43 pm

    [...] nails it, as usual: My take on privacy is that it is a policy of the individual, not in a sense of privacy policy for the individual selected from a given selection, in the style of Creative Commons. Huge difference. For instance, I [...]

  2. John Galpin
    on Sep 17th, 2008
    @ 16:41 pm

    Hi Adriana
    I was reading another article on the BBC website a few weeks ago about how a UK government department had lost some more data belonging to 1000’s of people and it suddenly occurred to me that fundamentally if people were able to store and control their own data we wouldn’t have these issues. By complete coincidence later that evening i was discussing this with a colleague by who told me about Project VRM which is how i’ve ended up on your blog.

    As a newcomer / outsider to this the term VRM really bothered me – it sounds so vendor focused, which i now understand is not the point, however, given that first impressions are so important my first thought was that it would be so much better if the name of this movement conveyed its potentially huge benefits to users. The best i could think of was “personal data management”, which isn’t that interesting but a bit more “me” focused.

    I can see there being such demand for this and its potential application not just in terms of how we manage our relationships with vendors but also in terms of how we consume information from the internet that might be of interest to us, that i wonder whether VRM might actually be a bit limiting further down the line?

    Also getting users to adopt this is going to be important and as there are billions of potential users, maybe it would be better if it spoke to users first and vendors second?

  3. Adriana
    on Sep 18th, 2008
    @ 10:16 am

    John, right on the money regarding users. This has been my approach ever since I heard about VRM two years ago.

    And yes, the VRM acronym is a bit dull and, dare I say, misleading. Open to suggestions on that one – discussions on this have been going on since day one… :)

    My priorities are firmly on the user side (a quick perusal of my writing on VRM on this blog will confirm that).

    I have driving this point within the Project VRM and taking that perspective to the Mine! project:

    I organise regular monthly meetings in Lonon for those interested in the topic, the next one is on 25th September. More details here:

    It would be good to meet you and explain more, as well as get your perspective on this.

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