Data and privacy are back on the agenda and so, too, is power. We knew that data would trigger arguments and counter-arguments about who owns the enormous amounts of data involved and who has the right to do what.
Power is back on the agenda, mainly because of last week’s extraordinary events in Washington, DC. Whatever your view of those events, it demonstrated one equally extraordinary fact that the biggest of the big tech companies have the power to shut down the President of the United States. Twitter was first, quickly followed by Facebook and then Jess Bezos banned Parler. It seems that platform will not be back anytime soon.
Whether any of these companies would have behaved differently if the President had been at the beginning or in the middle of his tenure is a discussion for another place. Still, the discussion here must be about whether big tech is too big and too powerful, a point Jouko Ahvenainen raises here.
Simultaneously, as this debate came to a head, the debate about who should own your data is also coming to the boil.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee has been working with MIT on ways of doing what he said he wanted to do some years ago. To design a way of users owning and controlling their data.
We can agree that all the efforts to date have been ineffectual and we still click ‘agree’ when we arrive at a website, and we are confronted with those wonderful terms and conditions. To do otherwise would, we are warned, result in a less than good experience.
Whether Berners-Lee’s idea of data pods will work to any great extent will depend on whether the big tech companies buy into it and it doesn’t seem as if they have any real reason to do so. Their business depends on user data and the enormous advertising revenues it generates.
This means that it will depend on the users themselves to make big tech change. And that will only be possible with seismic change and the moving of a whole mountain of inertia.
We love to hate Facebook and Twitter, some of us even leave. For most of us, it is still a good way of keeping in touch with friends and colleagues and news.
Until we get angry enough about owning our data, the theories and ideas for us to take back control will remain just that – theories and ideas.