People have the inalienable right to benefit from the use of data their activities generate.

17 responses to “Discuss:”

  1. jz says :

    Well, if I engage in the activity of fucking, and that generates new DNA data as my chromosomes mix with my partner’s to form a zygote that eventually becomes a child, does that mean I have the inalienable right to benefit from the use of the child’s DNA?

  2. angusf says :

    People may not have control over whether data is generated from their activities, or knowledge of any generated data. While they might not benefit they should expect not to be harmed.

  3. John the Statistic says :

    As posed, certainly not. If I break into a store and the security camera videotapes me, I have no reasonable expectation of benefit.

    I could get behind: “The public has the inalienable right to benefit from the use of aggregate data their collective activities generate.”

    While I think there should definitely be an equivalent statement for personal data, I’m not prepared to state one. The problem is that it should respect both definitions of “you own your own data” (protected ownership and personal responsibility), but taken trivially that just degenerates into “buyer beware”. Maybe something like “No Impact without Contact”, where you have the right to interrogate the chain of data transmission for your personal data (you can always get an answer to “How did you get my address?”). At least that’s equivalent to the well-established right of facing one’s accuser.

  4. sevensixfive says :

    There’s a Mcluhan pull quote somewhere in Understanding Media where he says something like ‘In the future, most people’s paid occupation will be the finding and sorting of various pieces of information’.

    It’s funny that the older ideal model of cash-for-content on the web was micropayments – paying to read. Now we’re kind of hinting at the inverse – getting paid to read.

    It seems on the one hand, difficult to implement without losing massive amounts of privacy (which is, of course, already happening). And on the other hand, difficult to rely on because the measurement and incentivization of that kind of activity might hugely distort the data (which is also already happening.)

  5. Enrique Ramirez says :

    Interesting how you couch your argument/proposal in the same language as the Bill of Rights … you are arguing in terms of “rights”. And when you use the term “inalienable”, there is already a supposition that the right to “benefit” was there from the same place.

    Copyright law work under this type of assumption.

  6. Omar Elsayed says :

    I’m curious as to why you chose to include “benefit from the use of”.

    I suppose “data” can’t “benefit” anyone without some amount of interpretation/subjectivity. But your declaration is phrased in a way that implies it would be a second party’s interpretation that produces the benefit – not the interpretation of the people who generated the data.

    Which brings us to issues of ownership. Activities don’t inherently generate data. A thing/instrument/device must observe/measure an activity to produce data. Who owns that thing? The public?

    “People have the inalienable right to the data their activities generate”

    If an object’s sole purpose is to generate data, under current property frameworks, is the right to that data synonymous with ownership of the object?

    “People have the inalienable right to deny others access to data their activities generate.”

    Phrased this way, we see a stronger tie between the “people” and the “data”. But in practicality, enforcing this right is most likely impossible.

  7. Christopher Fahey says :

    Data generated through public surveillance — even something as informal as overhearing someone in line at Starbucks and choosing to Tweet it or use it in your screenplay, or taking artsy photographs on the street, etc — should be exempt from this. Enforcing your proposed “right” would curtail my own “right” to collect data in public spaces. It implies I have no right to observe and report on other people without their permission.

    This comes back to a conversation I had with you a few months back about how the word “public” now implies to many people a sphere in which you have a right to privacy, which is obviously weird.

    Also, “inalienable” implies a supernatural origin to the right. Rights are self-granted, bootstrapped, generated through cultural agreement. Despite the sentiments of America’s founders, their words often fall back on theological and supernatural arguments to ground what are, IMHO, simply clauses in the social contract.

  8. Jamie says :

    “From each according to their ability (to generate data), to each according to their (data-generating) ‘activity'”?

    The “‘activity theory’ of value”? A Vygotskian economics?

    Wow. Very suggestive.

    I merely note that something called the “Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research” purports to be based out of . . . the University of Helsinki.

  9. dan reetz says :

    Working life presents a tricky test case. Does one relinquish data rights while on the clock?


    Tellers, clerks, and salespeople probably currently have no rights to the data they produce in the course of their work (consumer X bought Y nine times).

    Soldiers, people with top-secret clearances, and intelligence operatives of all kinds have few-to-no rights to data generated in the course of their activities.

    As mentioned above, data collected by surveillance systems on or off the job (though it’s my strong belief that this data should be available to everyone).

    As a RadioShack employee, one agrees to relinquish rights to all inventions and innovations conceived for the term of employment plus two years post. What about those mental activities like writing software? A record of keypresses while programming under an NDA?

    I do recognize that employment is a flawed example because one must consent to accept the job.

    There are other conditions that aren’t exactly employment.

    Subjects in scientific experiments are almost universally unable to access data collected in the course of their participation — volumetric brain scans, EEG recordings, etc. And what benefit might be gleaned without the context of the data of other subjects?

    Medical data in general — the data collected by technicians are inaccessible to them, and then there’s the fact that most medical data is worthless to patients– how can the average person benefit from DICOM images, or highly-technical assessments of their conditions, etc.

    I think access is the key word here, but access is complex. In one sense, I’m sympathetic to this acerbic take, but on the other hand, one of the critical questions this statement rests on seems to be “When are your activities your own?”.

  10. Michal Migurski says :

    Just a little too broad. There’s a social/gov’t angle in there someplace that I think makes sense: people should have the right to use the data generated from interactions with their government and gov’t-enabled constructs (e.g. businesses). There’s also the question of what “data” means. I think that a definition which covers biographical facts would make sense. I’m interested in a sense that data-gathering entities are licensing facts about you, from you, and you retain the right to revoke that license. *Complexity ensues*. This kind of license is also a social construct, so I don’t think it even comes close to “inalienable” territory.

  11. Danny Wolpert says :

    This strikes me as a very Lockean formation. ‘Rights’ and ‘inalienable’ I have to agree with Enrique Ramierez, it strikes me as a very ‘framer’ engagement. Property and law, division and ownership. Doesn’t the advent of idea sharing and open source serve to route around such limiting concrete statutes like ‘property’ and even by extension ‘individual’.
    Wasn’t it newton that declared that any greatness of discovery was due to “standing on the shoulders of Giants”?

    As I understand Adam’s framing of the statement it is to be a claim to the right of a person over the RFID information and the market data they generate etc. But I don’t personally think that is the way to break the tyranny of corporate observation and market analysis. It seems the way to beat the system is to give it too much to categorise, provide it with complicated answers when it asks simplistic questions. Undercut it’s premises, make the data self-defeating. It is after all the goal of data farming to construct rational predictive pictures of the world. So just give it all the complexity the world throws up and force its ‘rational’ analysis inward. Force a critical question about the value of data when it throws up just more variables.

    my 2 pence (that’s $7,873.98 to you in the USA ) ;)

  12. Stephan Hügel says :

    This is a tricky statement, possibly for semantic reasons; If people have the right (inalienable, or otherwise) to benefit from the use of the data they generate, does that mean that the data their activities generate cannot benefit someone else, e.g. the entity or individual who facilitated its generation, recording? Does it then follow that it is illegal for a government or organisation to use this data against its owner in a punitive or exploitative manner? The statement is too broad to be useful in anything other than a philosophical context (perhaps I’m stating the obvious here) and even then, it’s too fuzzy to encapsulate what I think you’re driving at; namely that as every one of our activities becomes ever more contextualised, stripped of the innocence of times past (in the eyes of those who collect and aggregate it) we require rights to the data we generate, a way to prevent them being used to harm or exploit us, even if we do not own them, and that those rights ought to be enshrined at the highest possible level.

  13. dan reetz says :

    “There’s also the question of what “data” means. I think that a definition which covers biographical facts would make sense.”

    What makes data biographical? Consider how Western culture emphasizes consumer choice as a means of individuation — this t-shirt, that iPhone, that album. When identity is constructed from consumer choice, what data is more (auto)biographical than a record of purchases?

    I think making distinctions by datatype is a slippery slope. What, for example, is the difference between footprints in the sand and the record from a footstep-aware carpet or sidewalk? And who owns the data if it is in the workplace, vs the home, vs the public? What about surveillance camera footage of walking on said sandy beach? The different recordings still reduce to data — ones and zeroes, recordings — but result from different systems with different permissions and perhaps importantly, different intentions.

    Beyond intentions and ownership, there’s the problem of causality. How immediate must one’s actions be to have rights to the data? What qualifies as interaction? I’m thinking chain-reaction sorts of strings of causality here, a car wreck interfaces with EDRs/black boxes, the police, fire, ambulances, news, surveillance footage, and so on.

    I think the broader point — that particularly in the case of systems that would learn and anticipate — predict and prefigure behavior and attempt to influence, assist or modify it, not to mention systems that have the ability to seamlessly deny information access (like Yahoo in China), the rights of the users must be carefully protected. Especially since those with the most money, influence, and ability to implement such systems will be advertisers (a la Google today).

  14. Derek says :

    ‘Benefit’ seems like a red herring: either people have the right
    to the data itself (which they may put to some beneficial use, or
    not) or they don’t. What justification is there to protect one’s
    right to benefit from the use of data without granting access to,
    or control over, it? What purpose is served in protecting others’
    right to collect data on a person’s activities, but only if they
    confer some benefit (which, in this context, would almost
    certainly mean monetary compensation) back to the originator?

    In this provocation there is the suggestion that one could
    justify a claim to such a ‘right’ as preventing exploitation of a
    person’s labor or property, but it is not clear that the data
    produced by a person’s activities is either. If data generated by
    one’s actions were like the products of one’s labor, that would
    justify protections similar to copyright (as Enrique noted) or if
    like one’s DNA, that would imply issues similar to those that
    surround Henrietta Lacks’ legacy, or DeCode’s use of the
    Iceland’s collective genome.

    I suggest that instead it’s much more like having your picture
    taken in public: if you go outside, you risk that chance that
    someone photograph you, and you have no reasonable expectation of
    privacy, no right to exert control over the use of your image.
    Similarly, through one’s everyday activities–being out in
    public, participating in the economy–one generates, and
    implicitly permits the capture of, a body of data.

    Here is an instance where a person’s activity generated some data
    used by others for purposes presumably not intended by that
    person. Consider what rights Nurri has to benefit from the data
    generated by her appearance in front of a surveillance camera,
    and how such a benefit might be conferred.

    Does Nurri have a right to some benefit because her image was
    captured in a surveillance video, even though this transient
    datastream was, presumably, produced with no commercial intent
    beyond the indirect value associated with loss prevention? (Does
    loss prevention itself constitute a benefit for her, in the form
    of cheaper goods? Even if she doesn’t buy anything?) Should Nurri, or the store operator, benefit
    from the photographer’s use of the image data generated from the
    store’s activity of surveillance? Are all three of you owed a
    debt by Yahoo, who, ultimately, will make money off the image
    data from people (like myself) who pay to be Flickr members
    because we find value in sharing this image and others like it?

  15. John the Statistic says :

    These other folks have a much better critical ear than I do, so I’m backing off from even the diluted aggregate statement. Hertzian public space is Hertzian public space. I still think that for analysis done explicitly on behalf of the public does owe that kind of articulation of shared benefit and the opportunity to deliberate on said benefit, but it doesn’t make any sense to me to have kind of an FCC for collection of passive data, which required private aggregate benefit analysis seems to imply.

  16. Christopher Fahey says :

    Michael Migurski has it right: “people should have the right to use the data generated from interactions with their government and gov’t-enabled constructs (e.g. businesses).”

    Also, I find it interesting that you’ve framed this as a right for an individual to use their data, not as a right for someone to control that usage (for example, privacy: preventing another entity from using that data). It’s as if you’re saying that you not having access to your own data is a greater concern than other people having access to your data. The former is a natural consequence of the latter, so why focus on the former?

  17. david says :

    People certainly have the right to benefit from the data they “generate.”

    The question is whether the have an exclusive, universal right. They demonstrably do not.

    If I take a picture of a (paid) hand model and post it on my timepiece-oriented website, I have purchased the right to benefit from that model’s data.

    BUT – If I walk down the street, and see a beautiful girl, I have freely “benefited” from her “data.” Perfectly legal and unregulated.

    The distinction clearly sits at the threshold of the public realm, as Joseph R. Francis taught us.

    However – where that threshold lies is a cultural phenomenon. It may lie at your doorstep in an Anglo-American domestic-based society. It may, however, lie at the hem of your burka.

    The other difficulty is the ambiguity of the word “data.”

    I’d posit that a fact becomes “data” once some benefit can be taken from it. It’s not as if data just happens to be sitting in a room somewhere. Data refers, pragmatically, to an implied action – that of collecting facts with a purpose.

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