Who’s data is it anyway?

This morning (Saturday 24 March) there was a short item on the BBC Today Programme where Paddy Ashdown was arguing the case that we should treat personal data like property and that individuals should have the right to sell their data and get their fair share of the profits.

“Oh my”,  thought my sleepy brain.  I don’t think that will work without a lot of regulation which undoubtedly will lead to more exploitation through data estate agents.  Jenni Tennison from the Open Data Institute did her best to state an alternative case, the need for greater transparency, for open-ness but it a really short radio slot, it unfortunately didn’t really hit the spot.

I know I make data and therefore privacy trade-offs almost everyday.  I’ve probably been somewhat blasé, perhaps too naive with the little knowledge that I have, with the certainty that my own self censorship will ensure that an algorithm can’t “know” me. But they can (and do) sell parts of me . . .

Thanks to mainly to Channel 4 and The Guardian the past week has been full of extend of data manipulation, unethical practices employed in particular by Cambridge Analytica and Facebook.

Over the past decade I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in discourse around the potential  uses of network data and the ethical implications of being able to mine personal information.  Tony Hirst has always been my “go to guy” around this. Thanks to Tony, and others including Martin Hawksey and his Tags Explorer,  I’ve been able to see and explore for myself the potential and the pitfalls of using data.  This week Tony reminded us of a post he wrote back in  2010 about Facebook privacy settings.  “We” all knew this was coming, but what do “we” – academics, ed tech writers know . . . experts get it wrong all the time and we don’t have the big bucks that get us a seat on the data sharing explotation table.

Thankfully there is now a spotlight on data control, privacy and ethics.  There’s lots of talk about allowing users to get back their data. But how do you reclaim your Facebook data for example?  Autumn Caines has written a fantastic post around her experiences on doing just that.  Please take 10 minutes to read it.

I particularly like how Autumn relates this to gaslighting and the issues we in education face, particularly around personalisation of learning. I like Autumns notion of platform literacy. We need to know what platforms, do, can do, don’t do with data. Education has a vital role to play here.   I fear that what most platforms call personalisation is actually increasing homogenisation of content and “the student journey”.

I am struggling just now with my trade offs in terms of social media use, which have been so useful for me in terms of extending my personal learning network, in terms of extending the conversations I can participate in, the terms of allowing me easy access to the thoughts and research of so many peers, in terms of having data informed discussions around learning and teaching,  I don’t want to lose that but I feel myself stepping back more and more.


I’ve just spotted this post from David Hopkins about his Facebook data – worth a read too.

2 thoughts on “Who’s data is it anyway?

  1. Hi Sheila,

    The new GDPR regulations which come into force in May add another dimension to this and have interesting implications for educational technologies. Users need to give proactive consent to gathering and processing of personal data. In some cases they clarify and extend existing rights, in others they define new rights for users (such as the right to data portability). In general I think all of this is very positive (albeit challenging) for EdTech and creates great opportunities to engage students and teachers in a discussion around privacy, their data, acceptable use – creating a lense to look at what we are doing with data. For example users are required to consent not only to gathering of data, but to each activity of processing that will be done with that data. Privacy policies must be expressed in plain language.


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