Defining ownership and control in a digital world

Used online, terms such as ownership and control have slightly more fluid connotations than their physical counterparts – but we can still define their context and meaning.

At digi.me, we unlock the power of personal data for users by enabling them to gather and collate information from multiple services, platforms and places in one single library that they own and control.

This library is the only place all this information exists together, allowing instant greater personal insight even before users begin to exchange or share slices of data, on their terms, for convenience, service or reward.

So our users own this data, this library, this collection – but does the data still exist in the original places it was found? Yes it does, but each individual now has a vastly more useful, insightful and comprehensive body of data than ever before, gathered together in a unique form, that they can access at will and exchange or share as wanted, thus controlling as well as owning it.

We’ve occasionally been asked how digi.me can really be returning data ownership to the individual if another copy, which they have no control over, exists, but this shows a limited understanding of the realities of the online world.

More importantly, it would imply ownership could only ever mean that just one copy of something existed, over which you had 100% control that could not be subverted – and this simply does not apply digitally in the same way it does physically.

Let’s give some examples. In the physical world, if I own a car it is mine completely (ignoring any financing), I control it completely, and it is clear and undeniable to others that this is the case.

So far so simple, yes? But even offline, things can be cloudier than they first appear, as simply having something tangible I can hold in my hand does not necessarily confer complete ownership or control.

If I am sent a bank statement, for example, then I own that copy of my financial data and what happens to it- but of course the bank still has all that same data too.

When we move online, it soon becomes clear that concepts of ownership and control have, by necessity and by evolution, become even more fluid.

So if I take a picture of something or someone, I own that image. It’s physically mine, stored on my camera and phone, and I can, crime or loss aside, control who sees it or accesses it.

But if I post it online, to Facebook or Twitter, for example, then things become more complicated. I still own the original photo, but lose control of what happens to the copy that I have shared, in terms of what people can say about it and what they do with it.

Yet my original ownership of the master document, if you will, remains unchanged even despite the presence of potentially multiple other versions.

Applying this principle to our app and the data it enables users to connect to it, it is clear that when you have your data in digi.me, then you own that data.

Other copies of the slices of data that make up the whole still exist, but you own your unique, extended and enhanced version – and where possible and where you are allowed by T&Cs, can seek to delete or, in the future, ask companies to forget these other versions, when the EU-wide General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws come in in 2018.

So what of the original copies of these many slices of data? What happens to them? Well, nothing is the answer. They remain where they were, being of limited or little use to both the individual who created them, or businesses hoping to gain insight into their users.

The bottom line is that our app, uniquely and appealingly, allows users to create and compile an increasingly all-compassing picture of the data from across their lives. One that will continue to evolve, develop and deepen the more they add to it, and one which they will always own and control.

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