Digital clones – who owns and uses yours?

Image by dailylifes | Bigstockphoto

Now, we have digital clones to contend with! Generative AI has enabled services that can learn from an individual’s behavior, style and character and start to act like that individual. It means all of us can have a personal or digital clone and personal AI that behaves and even sounds like us. But who owns it? Is it you or a company that enables this? Should you allow access to all your data to somebody who digitally clones you?

Metaverses and digital clones

Almost two years ago, at the time when companies started to build metaverses, I wrote a post asking the question – who owns your avatar? Metaverses like the one developed by Meta and other tech companies haven’t yet materialized. Yet, at the same time, with generative AI, digital twins, clones, agents or whatever we may call them are like what avatars in metaverses could be.

AIclones, one of the startups offering digital twin services, has the following statement on its homepage: “Clones are an extension of you. Trained to act and think like you – in the digital world.” They also help “create your own clone in 10 minutes.” Doppler, another similar player, calls to: “Engage with your fans and earn more with your AI clone.” says, “A digital version of you.” These are just a few examples; many other new projects and startups like them exist.

Totally new personal data questions

We have been worried about personal data in social media. With digital clones, we can discuss much more serious issues. It’s not just that someone knows about you and can target you in all kinds of marketing campaigns or if you have published something dumb.

Now, in the age of generative AI, someone can actually copy you, and this digital copy of you can act on behalf of you. And the data that is used is not only content you have posted. It can also be biometric data, including your voice and even physical appearance. As we already know, voice can be used for many kinds of scams. Cybersecurity companies, like McAfee, have also recognized these new threats.

Copyright implications

One area that could potentially help navigate this rapidly evolving space is the copyright law or data privacy regulations that deal with digital and biometric data. It is an area that also requires clear regulatory and legal guidelines and services where copyright licensing can be done legally. Some copyright and image rights questions are especially for well-known people (e.g. singers, actors, sports stars, and models) where brands, media and AI content companies pay for them to use their data, whether it is voice, physical appearance or something else.

But there are many more complex questions that concern all of us. Can we control how companies use our data? If so, how can we control it? How can we protect against its illegal usage? What are reasonable terms and conditions someone can offer us to use our data? What are the models for this clone business?

Gateway theory

It can be an attractive idea to activate your own digital clone. Maybe, just for fun, to see how it behaves and what it says. Then, your AI clone could become a little helper to handle chat on your website or make comments on social media. So, you want to try, and you accept all terms and conditions without reading them carefully (if at all). Then, you may have given permission to access a lot of your data, and you cannot be sure how it is used.

It also very much matters what is the company’s business model that offers you the digital clone of yourself. In cases where such services are offered for free, they must have some other ideas on how to monetize their services, and most probably, your data is somehow a part of that business plan. A safer option is to choose services that plan to make money from your payment in exchange for services to help you build and host your digital twin.

Alternatives exist 

The safest and clearest option is the user-held data model where you can keep your data in your own cloud, virtual storage or devices. And then, the digital clone software would be run in the same place, on top of your own data. No one would access your data and take your data somewhere because the clone software would be running on top of your data. These services are already available (e.g. for wearable data), but digital clones could motivate everyone to start using a service like that.

Digital cloning has been a popular idea in many sci-fi books and movies. From those, we can find all kinds of ideas on how clones could be used for good and bad. We are not yet at the point where there would be a physical clone of you, but we are approaching a point where your clone could be quite significant in the digital world.

The role of digital clones

The digital world is becoming more important all the time: today, so many areas of our lives (from banking and virtual meetings to communications with friends, dating and job seeking) take place in digital environments. Digital clones can play an important role in all those activities in a few years. People need to be more active with privacy issues; in the future, smarter people will go after easy-to-use services.

We need services that are easy to use, offer real value to users, and empower them to control and utilize their own data. At the same time, with digital cloning, copyright and data, we talk about such serious issues that lawmakers and regulators must take them seriously, too. It is about our digital rights becoming a part of our human rights.

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