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article imageQ&A: Data ownership conundrum in the data driven world Special

By Tim Sandle     Sep 25, 2018 in Technology
Waterloo - As data driven economies rapidly rise, so do serious questions about who owns data and what ownership entails. Teresa Scassa, Senior Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation provides some insights.
Modern society is increasingly reliant upon data and driven by data gathering and data analytics. This leads to many questions that need to be unraveled relating to privacy, data rights and smart cities. One person well-placed to tackle these issues is Teresa Scassa. In her latest research paper, Data Ownership, Scassa describes how in most jurisdictions the ownership of data is often based in copyright law or protected as confidential information. In Europe, database protection laws also play a role. However, there are limitations and major areas where laws fall short.
For example, “Copyright protection requires a human author. Works that are created by automated processes in which human authorship is lacking cannot, therefore, be copyright protected. This has raised concerns that the output of artificial intelligence processes will not be capable of copyright protection,” warns Scassa.
To discuss these important issues further, Digital Journal spoke with Teresa Scassa (from the independent, non-partisan Canadian think tank Centre for International Governance Innovation).
Digital Journal: How important has data become for businesses?
Teresa Scassa: Data has been referred to as the new ‘oil’ of the economy, although unlike oil, it is an infinitely renewable resource. Data is fueling innovation in AI and machine learning. The applications for these technologies are virtually limitless. We are already seeing astonishing new innovations in the health care sector, and of course, with autonomous vehicles. Innovators need vast quantities of data from a very broad range of sources.
There are concerns that some of the major platform companies have enormous competitive advantages as a result, since they have been collecting massive quantities of data for years and dominate areas of service provision that generate constant new streams of data. Data is collected ubiquitously in just about everything – including humans. Personal data is collected from every online interaction, each use of portable devices, through smart technologies in our homes and vehicles, and from the variety of private and public sector services we consume.
DJ: Are consumers too willing to provide personal data?
Scassa: Some level of data sharing is often necessary for most goods and services we purchase or licence. The more we want services customized to our interests, the more data we may need to share. Data is also increasingly the informal method of payment for many “free” digital services. Consumers may not be aware just how much data, what kind of data and how much detail they are providing. While there are contexts where individuals voluntarily share personal information—such as over social media—there are many other contexts in which the sharing is difficult to characterize as truly voluntary.
DJ: How concerned should people be about what is done with personal data?
Scassa: They should be very concerned. Data is increasingly used to profile individuals and these profiles may affect the ads they see for goods or services, the prices they are asked to pay, the job opportunities made available to them, or their eligibility for credit—to give just a few examples. Predictive policing is one example of data analytics that raises serious concerns about both privacy and bias. The recent Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal provides a good illustration of the broader public harms that may result from the unchecked exploitation of personal data.
DJ: How about data security issues. How secure is most personal data that is held by companies?
Scassa: Data may be shockingly insecure. High profile data breaches involving major companies obviously receive a lot of press. But, there are also a steady stream of lower profile data security breaches in government and the private sector. Critics have also rightfully raised concerns about the poor levels of security that may be present in our Internet of Things devices such as smart phones, smart appliances, personal data assistants, and so on. The hacking of these devices can lead to the hacking of our homes, and may have implications for personal as well as financial security.
DJ: How are new technologies, like artificial intelligence, affecting data privacy?
Scassa: AI creates an enormous market for data, including behavioural data about individuals, whether identifiable or not. This market will further incentivize companies of all kinds to derive new income streams from the data they collect about their customers. Although minimizing the data collected about individuals is a privacy best practice, it is very much at odds with the current drive to collect as much information as possible, as frequently as possible, and to retain it indefinitely.
In a follow up interview, Teresa Scassa discusses data privacy laws, considering the recent changes affecting Europe and the possible implications for the U.S. See: "Q&A: Does the U.S. need a data privacy law?"
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