The War over Data and Other Short Stories

After reading and digesting Publishing 2.o’s Scott Karp’s comprehensive piece on the forthcoming war over data, it seems to me there is an obvious component to the “debate” of data ownership that should be considered here: principally that the war will be over as soon as users realize just how much this data is worth to them (in other applications and directly to their bank accounts).

Today there are many reasons a user might want to remove or move data: use in another app, privacy and security, fatigue with a “platform” that no longer provides utility, etc. But in the not-so-distant future there will be even more reasons to move data.

A model or application will come along that shows users the real value in this data about them and how they spend their attention. It may be the next logical evolution of advertising (think Discover Card Ads: “the advertising that pays you back”), or some other such incarnation. As sure as innovation and capitalism live and breath, its coming…and users WILL get their data.

Most of the TOSs of the prominent web gateways (search engines, social networks and productivity tools) state that they own the data and Scoble’s “scraping” of the data isn’t lawful.

So today the conversation looks like this:

USER: I am spending my attention on your site. My attention creates data stored in your environment. I should be able to move the data I have created to another site so I don’t have to replicate the time I took to create it in a new environment. My data should follow me around.

SITE OWNER: Yeah right! you agreed to the TOS. We provide this service for free. The data belongs to us and we use it to make money so we can provide you with the service without charging you for it.

In the future, it will be more like this:

USER: Hand it over.

SITE OWNER: What format? XML? APML? OPML? RSS?

Data Portability.org is seeking an open standard for APIs to talk to one another so a user’s data can be moved from one site to another with out a lot of fuss. Many web 2 apps and even Microsoft have joined. From this move to join DataPortability, its clear that the issue of portability is technically nearly solved, and that there is a financial reason to be a part of the solution — many of the firms that have joined are those who would benefit greatly to giving their users the ability to grab data from other sites and port it to their own properties to create a stickier site where users will spend more of their attention.

Many of these joining firms also recognize that in order to have the honor of being a “holder” of someone’s data they will need to offer the option to collect that data and use it elsewhere. If users cant move their data, they will take their attention somewhere else.

While many will never actually port their data elsewhere, they will certainly want to know that its theirs to do so, should they desire. Its critical to the element of trusting the vendor you spend attention with. To quote Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures:

Why does this matter? Because trust is going to become a bigger issue going forward. I realize that many people trust Google and others to safeguard their data. But the best way to garner trust is to tell people that they “own their data” and they have the right to put it anywhere they want. The simply act of doing that will garner even more trust.

Control will ultimately be with the user (they can and will join hands and fight to be able to move their data—there are more of them and no shortage of lawyers in this country). People will want to pull data out of Facebook when they graduate and have a job (and less attention to waste on Facebook) and put it to use in a more productive environment that enhances their career, bank statements, social life, etc.

Users will find a way.

Oh, and Open always wins.

This post originally appeared here 

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One response to “The War over Data and Other Short Stories

  1. Great idea!! You make some valid points here. How do you suggest social networking sites allow users to export data? amending the terms of service? How will users keep their members if they are exporting their info to other sites or to themselves?

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