What is Data Ownership and Why is it Important?

What is Data Ownership?

If you’re anywhere above the age of one, you’ll probably know a thing or two about the internet. But did you know that every account you create, every post you make, and every like, share or retweet you do is valuable? Your data is a business. So the ownership of data should be at the top of your digital agenda.

The path to digital freedom

Without data ownership, we don’t have digital freedom. As we hurtle forwards in time, technology advances, breaching the limits of the imaginations of the great sci-fi writers. But there’s a global problem: we’re getting closer and closer to a completely technocratic, cashless and online society.

Whether you’ve heard of people buying digital real estate, or a little thing called the metaverse, the signals are clear: we’re shifting to a digitized world. There’s even non-satirical reports of potential brain implants in humans by 2023. For better or worse, the physical world and the digital world are colliding.

While all these advancements in technology will surely have some positive effects, they are also festering with the potential for harm – harm in the form of repressive and totalitarian control. If we don’t act now, data ownership may be the science fiction of the future – an imagined world where people have digital freedom and the right to own their online assets.

But it doesn’t have to be a work of fiction…

First, let’s get back to the basics.

What is data ownership?

There are two general definitions of data ownership:

  1. Data privacy for the consumer and compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). In this case, the data owner is the consumer who is the subject of the collected data.
  2. Data management and security. In this case, the data owners are those in an organization in control of data security policies and data management, monitoring the data stored by the organization. These data owners are in charge of keeping it safe, up to date, and useful for their colleagues and organization.

Generally, data ownership refers to the right or control over the use, access and distribution of data. It often refers to someone who owns physical data, such as a hard drive or a computer, as well as the people who have legal rights that empower them to access, use and distribute the data contained inside. But more recently, the term is becoming known for its online equivalent.

In terms of business, data ownership tends to refer to the legal rights and responsibilities related to collecting, storing, and using data about customers, clients, employees, or other stakeholders in the company. This is mostly personal data like names and addresses, but it also includes more specific data about preferences, behaviors, and transactions.

Individuals, organizations and government agencies are all potential parties involved in the complex web of data ownership. It’s critical that all parties have a clear understanding of what is meant by data ownership and data management so that they can assign the appropriate protection.

The third definition

There is a less-spoken-of third definition of data ownership: the ability to store your own data safely and securely online, without the requirement of a third party or middleman. After all, the prior two data ownership definitions often overlook the fact that it’s your data that is under question. In web2, your data is always handled by someone else. Not anymore…

At Elastos, we believe you should own your data. Data ownership issues will be easier to solve when there is a clear understanding of this topic. Any data sharing, use, or storage is down to you, not a custodian.

Why is the ownership of data important?

While any type of data can be considered under the umbrella term of data ownership, it’s really digital data that we’re talking about here. As all things go digital, we need to ensure our data remains free before we’re locked into an inescapable system, secured by code.

Without proper data protection measures, our personal data can be shared without our permission. Not only can our personal information be leaked, but our likes and dislikes, our more subjective data, is often sold to marketing companies who target us with highly specific adverts.

Ever wondered why your phone shows you ads for things you’ve been talking about or Googling? It’s because your digital footprint is being monitored by AI at all times and the data collected is being used to convert you into a customer.

Your phone is listening in to collect data even when you're not using it.

There’s no other reason why social media is free to use, and it’s one of the most successful and profitable business models of all time. You are the product. The more addictive the app, the more data you unwittingly give, and the more money the company can make by selling your interests to marketers.

This means that not only is our data sold, but some of the most popular apps in the world are purposely made to be addictive; think of how many times you’ve found yourself aimlessly scrolling Instagram or Twitter or Facebook. Big Data companies use manipulative tactics to drain us of our time, suck out our desires and regurgitate them for their business partners. This vampiric business model is extraordinary and operates largely misunderstood by the layman.

The solution is simple to understand conceptually: true data ownership so that it’s impossible for companies to use and sell your data against your will. The actual implementation of such a thing requires a few additional parts, something we’ll get onto soon…

What is user data?

User data refers to any type of data about an individual or organization that is collected when they use a product, service, or platform. This includes data that is actively provided by the user, like an online survey, but it also includes passively collected data, which is harvested through their interactions with the product or service in question, such as their browsing history or location data.

User data includes, but is not limited to, personal identification information (name, age, contact details, etc.), demographic information (gender, income level, education level, etc.), behavioral data (browsing history, search queries, etc.), and transactional data (purchase history, payment information, credit score, etc.).

User data is usually collected and used by companies to improve their products and services. It can be used to personalize experiences for users too. User data is also beneficial for companies that want to launch target marketing and highly specific advertising efforts.

While it’s critically important for companies to be transparent about their data collection practices and to make data protection a priority, too few organizations actually see it this way. It tends to be that profit comes first and data security is less important.

What is data stewardship?

Data stewardship is the responsible management and protection of data assets in an organization. It ensures data is accurate, secure, and used ethically and effectively. Or, at least, it’s supposed to.

Data stewards are responsible for all data within an organization, from its creation or acquisition, to its storage, processing, and dissemination. They aim to make sure that data is properly governed, managed, and protected. It’s also important for data stewards to ensure that data is used in a way that aligns with the organization’s goals and values.

Data stewardship involves a range of activities:

  • Establishing and enforcing policies and procedures for data management
  • Monitoring data quality
  • Ensuring compliance with relevant laws and regulations
  • Understanding the data needs of stakeholders in the company
  • Ensuring stakeholders have access to the data they need to do their jobs effectively

Overall, data stewardship is a critical cog in the machine of any organization’s data management strategy. It helps to ensure that data is used effectively and ethically, and that it’s protected against unauthorized access or misuse.

Except that there are many loopholes which make true data ownership far more desirable.

The failures of data stewardship

There are a number of reasons why data stewardship can be a flawed process. Not all organizations take data governance as seriously as they should. There are laws, like the General Data Protection Regulation, which are supposed to protect data on all platforms, regardless of the technology used. But they don’t always work like expected.

Man-made laws still need to be enforced, whereas code is automatically enforced, making it the default in the digital world. You can compare coded laws to natural laws like gravity. If we take Bitcoin as an example, there can never be more than 21 million BTC. This is immutable. You know the outcome is final. The same can be said for if you walk off a cliff: you are going to fall. There is no secret way you can hack life and float away. There is no way to alter the number of Bitcoins and make more out of thin air – unless, of course, all the nodes and users agree.

The digital scarcity that blockchain technology presents empowers us to create digital laws that are immutable, transparent, and apply to everybody. This is why we must ensure that we keep our data safe before a technocracy decides what’s best for everyone based on their monetary interests rather than the people’s right to data ownership. If the masses succumb to a centralized, blockchain-based internet, we could find ourselves sucked into an inescapable maze of digital censorship and limitations. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

Data stewardship can fail for a number of reasons:

  1. Lack of clear policies and guidelines: Without a clear understanding of policies and guidelines for data management, it can be difficult for data stewards to understand their responsibilities.
  2. Insufficient training: If individuals are not adequately trained in data stewardship best practices, they are less likely to know how to properly manage and protect data.
  3. Lack of resources: Data stewardship requires a budget, staff, and technology to be effective. If these resources are unavailable, it can be difficult to properly steward data.
  4. Poor communication: Data stewardship relies on effective communication between different teams and departments within an organization. If communication is poor or disorganized, it makes it more difficult to ensure that data is properly managed.
  5. Lack of accountability: If there is not a clear system of accountability in place, then it becomes almost impossible for established policies to be followed. This results in a lack of appropriate care for the data of others.
  6. Centralization: Data stewardship is usually centralized, meaning that a small group of people are in charge of a large amount of data. This can result in trust issues, security concerns, and data breaches.

Data owner vs data steward

‘Data owners’ in the usual sense of the term are stakeholders or other key players that are accountable for all the data in an organization. They have ultimate responsibility for how the data is used, collected, and shared, while a data steward is a person or group that is responsible for overseeing the management and governance of data within an organization.

The data owner is responsible for setting data governance policies and procedures. They are there to ensure these policies are followed.

A data steward, on the other hand, is responsible for day-to-day data management. They oversee an organization’s data and make sure everything runs smoothly. This may include tasks such as ensuring that data is stored and managed effectively, as well as verifying the data is accurate and accessible to those who need it.

To summarize, the data owner is responsible for the overall direction and strategy related to data, while the data steward is responsible for the practical implementation of these strategies and the ongoing management of the data.

What are the trust issues regarding data?

There are several trust issues that immediately spring to mind when a company is managing data.

1. Lack of transparency

Companies are often not transparent about how they are collecting and using customer data. When companies aren’t transparent, it creates cause for concern. The same can be said for governments, which is why a decentralized autonomous organization may be the best bet for the future.

2. Privacy concerns

When an external company is managing data, it can be a worry that personal data will be used or shared without the person’s knowledge or consent.

3. Security breaches

When centralized organizations store tons of data, they become a target for hackers. With a single point of failure, one successful hack can result in billions of people’s data being leaked.

4. Misuse of data

Big Data companies have built a reputation for themselves for being irresponsible with customer data. They frequently misuse customer data in a way that is unfair, manipulative, and/or downright illegal.

Can you own your own data?

As things stand, organizations collect data and store it according to their data governance policies. However, in a blockchain-based internet, or web 3.0, data can be stored on a blockchain, making it clear to all who owns it. Just as everybody can track every satoshi to find out which wallet it belongs to, data ownership will advance in that it will become transparent and verifiable.

The data itself, as some form of non-fungible token, will only exist in one place at one time. In the decentralized social media of the future (like Feeds), you will save, control and store your data yourself. It will never be collected by the decentralized application itself.

With a decentralized storage system, and a single-account decentralized identity, it’s finally possible for you to own your data. All that profit that Big Data companies are making? You can get a slice of the pie if you want. Web 3.0 (or web5 as Jack Dorsey calls it) will empower you to sell your own data if you want to earn from it. Otherwise you can keep it in your wallet – like you do with your cryptocurrency – and it will be private and secure.

Unlike the data breaches of today where millions, if not billions, of people’s data is leaked all the time, the decentralized internet of the future will mean that hackers have to break into each and every single person’s individual wallets to access their data. The feat of breaking into one person’s crypto wallet is already difficult enough (unless the owner has somehow exposed their private keys), so trying to break into millions is as close to impossible as can be.

How can blockchain enhance data ownership?

Can blockchain really solve all these problems? If you thought crypto was just magic money and expensive jpegs, think again. Blockchain technology can solve real problems, and decentralization can be used to counter very real trust issues. Digital money is just the tip of the iceberg.

True data ownership via blockchain technology is as disruptive as you can get for web2 industries. There are several key ways in which blockchain can improve data ownership.

  • Decentralization: Blockchain technology allows for the creation of decentralized systems, in which data is not controlled by a single entity but rather is shared among a network of participants. This gives individuals and organizations more control over their own data, helping to mitigate the concentration of data ownership.
  • Immutability: Blockchain is tamper-proof. The technology allows for the creation of an immutable record of transactions, which can be used to track the ownership and use of data. This can help to increase transparency and accountability in data ownership.
  • Identity management: Digital identities (particularly of the decentralized kind) are made possible with blockchain technology. This ensures that individuals and organizations have control over their own identity data, helping to give people more control over how their personal data is used.
  • Smart contracts: Smart contracts are self-executing contracts with the terms of the agreement between buyer and seller being directly written into lines of code. They are made possible by blockchain technology, and can dramatically improve data ownership in the digital world. Smart contracts can be used to automate the exchange of data and ensure that data is used in accordance with pre-agreed upon terms and conditions.

These are just a handful of the ways in which blockchain technology can support data ownership, return power to the people and restore digital freedom. While it might seem a long way off, there are already numerous tech start-ups working on the solution to data ownership right now. And you’d best believe they are using blockchain technology.

Overall, blockchain’s potential for decentralization, transparency, and security make it the perfect solution to enhance data ownership and write digital data rights in immutable code. This is akin to the constitution – we get to choose our digital laws of the future, and we best make sure that data ownership is a top priority.

Own your data with Elastos

Elastos has been built to solve data ownership issues. More of an operating system than a simple blockchain, Elastos is meant to be an entire suite for creating the dApps of the decentralized internet. Its tech stack is built to help you keep your data any way you wish.

Data access and storage will be made possible through Elastos’ decentralized storage system, Hive. Access privileges will be a right of the wallet owner. The Carrier peer-to-peer network can be utilized for sharing data elements without needing an intermediary.

This will protect the integrity of your data, making you a true data owner in every sense of the phrase, but it will also protect entire industries’ data sets. Imagine research data or some other form of scientific data from a cutting edge study. This technology will not only keep it private and secure, but it will allow it to be passed between entities without interference of any kind.

The same kind of technology (blockchain, NFTs, decentralized storage, P2P networks) can be used to ensure integrity and transparency when voting too. That’s just a glimpse into the many useful ways that NFTs and decentralized technologies can greatly improve digital freedom and data ownership.

By acting now, we can ensure the digital world of the future is free and tamper-proof. We can all be data owners.