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Who Owns The Future?

By Dean Whittaker

Beyond our time, what is the most value thing we possess? Some would say it is our data – the bits and bytes we leave behind as we live our lives that tell the world who we are and what we want. Most of us give away our data for free in exchange for a search engine service, a quick response on a phone app, or being able to share our life with our friends (and everyone else) through our Facebook posts. Who owns the photos you posted to Instagram? When reading the legal disclaimers for each of the services you quickly learn that the provider of the service owns the data.

Why does this matter, and who cares? Well, first of all, this data is quite valuable especially when aggregated with data from other sources such as your physical location using the GPS tracker in your cell phone reporting your whereabouts.

Why are Facebook and Google worth billions of dollars? It is your data that makes them so valuable because those entities trying to influence your behavior can use that data to evoke an emotional response. Social media can affect your decision-making in the purchases you make and in the way you cast your ballot.

The future is owned by those who own the data about us. Some European countries, such as Germany, have very strict control over who owns the data and how long they can keep it. However, with so many data breaches, such as that at Equifax, it is difficult to say who has the data or how secure it might be.

But, what if you owned your data and got paid for its value? According to Jaron Lanier in his book Who Owns the Future?, he expresses that if we were paid for our data that makes networks such as Facebook so valuable, it would re-create a middle class. The ever-advancing technology, as it doubles in power every 18-24 months (Moore’s Law), continues to diminish the value of the person but not their data. The seductive nature of the technology is to give us more and more for less and less, but, at what cost?

With the current administration’s plans to repeal the net neutrality policy in the U.S., it’s doubtful we will see any legislation to restrict the use of our data or, for that matter, the speed at which it moves through the Internet. Without net neutrality, carriers will be allowed to discriminate on the way in which they handle Internet traffic. Streaming music and video services, such as YouTube and Netflix, will likely be charged a toll which will be passed on to the consumer based on the speed and priority at which the data moves through carrier networks.

Back to my original question, “Who owns the future?” The future is owned by those that control the networks and the data that moves through it. If that makes you uneasy, let your congressman know your feelings about the loss of net neutrality.

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