Who owns you?

Friday, 17 May 2019
London, UK
By Sam Volkering

  • Voyeurism in the modern world
  • That picture of you belongs to someone else
  • We need to care about ourselves more

We live in a voyeuristic world. At any given moment of any day, at any time, you can take a peek into the lives of a complete stranger.

The capacity to do this has largely borne from the explosion of adoption in social networks. Things like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and LinkedIn are all portals into the lives of the people willing to share them.

This all goes a little further on from the development over the last couple of decades of ‘reality TV’. These TV shows put cameras into the lives of ‘real’ people again giving the wider population a salacious look into the lives of others.

You think the Kardashians would even be a ‘thing’ if it weren’t for reality TV and the explosion of social media?

But all this voyeurism into other people’s lives has a dark side to it. It is creating generations of narcissistic individuals who prefer likes online over a conversation in public with another human being.

It’s a world where ‘spats’ play out online, with keyboard warriors all too quick to pass judgement, throw abuse and vilify anyone that might even remotely disagree with their own views.

It’s fast becoming a toxic world when no one is accountable for the information they purvey.

But this is also a byproduct of a world where people don’t take responsibility for their own data, because it’s a responsibility that’s been taken from them.

What you create is and should always remain property of you. You own yourself, or at least that’s how it should be. But in the dystopian world that’s playing out in front of us, you don’t actually own yourself online. Someone else does, apparently. And that’s a disturbing thought, that your identity and your information can legally belong to someone else.

It’s wrong. And it’s something we need to be talking about and be very worried about.

First though, the markets…


Overnight the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 214.66 points, or 0.84%.

The S&P 500 gained 25.36 points, or 0.89%.

In Europe, the Euro Stoxx 50 index finished up 52.78 points, or 1.56%.

Meanwhile, the FTSE 100 rose 0.78%, and Germany’s DAX gained 210.80 points, or 1.74%.

In Asian markets, Japan’s Nikkei 225 is up 194.59 points, or 0.92%. China’s CSI 300 is down 2.10%.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 is up 35.30 points, or 0.56%.

On the commodities markets, West Texas Intermediate crude oil is US$62.92 per barrel. Brent crude is US$72.62 per barrel.

Turning to gold, the yellow metal is trading for US$1,287.94 (AU$1,871.81) per troy ounce. Silver is US$14.54 (AU$21.14) per troy ounce.

One bitcoin is worth US$7,213.92.

The Aussie dollar is worth 68.80 US cents.

What do you really get back?

We recently read a report that brings into question the idea of who owns the rights to your identity. According to People,

Ariana Grande is reportedly being sued for posting photos of herself on social media.

Per court documents published by The Blast and obtained by PEOPLE, professional photographer Robert Barbera filed a lawsuit Monday against the 25-year-old pop star for copyright infringement in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, suing her for allegedly posting two photos on her Instagram account without licensing; the photographer claims Grande never asked for his “permission or consent to publish the photographs.”

Now this is where things get a little tricky. You see, as a photographer you should own the rights to an image you’ve taken. But what if that’s a photo of someone else?

If you take a photo of me, it’s your photo, sure. But it’s my identity. Now the question is, who owns the rights to that and who has the right to disseminate that photo?

If I give you permission to use it for your own benefit, that’s fine. But what if I want to use it? Should I have to get your permission as the photographer to use an image of me?

Some might say yes, some might say no. My stance on it is that if it’s an image of a person and that person wants to use it, then they should have complete control over how and where they use it. If the photographer wants to use it, then they should have explicit consent to do so.

Otherwise you end up with a world where paparazzi take photos of anyone anytime for personal gain.

Hang on a sec, that’s exactly how the world works today…

I’m not sure what the end result is here. I don’t know how it plays out. I don’t know if the courts will rule that Grande can use photos of herself however she likes or if they determine that it doesn’t matter, the rights belong to the photographer.

I think the latter takes us into dangerous territory and sets a precedent for the ownership of personal data that can belong to anyone that isn’t that person of focus.

Think about it…

If a photographer has the legal right to take a photo of someone without consent and then profit from it, what’s to stop them from collecting other personal data about someone and then using that to profit, too?

What’s to stop a corporation from collecting user data and building profiles of people to then sell that information on to others…?

Hang on a second, that’s exactly what happens today.

And therein lies the problem — the fact that this is even a topic we have to discuss, debate and take through the courts.

It’s a reflection that the world we live in today has been skewed away from the rights of the individual in favour of the rights of the profit centers. It’s capitalism gone wrong.

Now that’s not to say that capitalism doesn’t work. Just that right now it’s facilitating a distortion of individual rights.

We desperately need a reorganisation of how users gather, store, analyse, use and monetise data and information. We need to enshrine in law the creation rights of data. Whether that’s metadata, location data, posts, personally identifiable information, photos, emails, IP addresses, every slither of data you can think about that you create on a daily basis. All should belong to the individual it’s tied to.

I should have to enable and approve a photographer, or a corporation to access and profit from my data, even if that’s a photo of me that they took. And if they use or collect data without express permission I should have easy, fast remediation to prevent them from using it or to appropriately remunerate me for it.

We’re talking about a data economy that puts the control of data in the rightful hands of the individual. But to do that we need to flip the narrative about how we create data and how much more care we should take with how it’s used.

We continue to give away far too much data for far too little in return. What do you get back from Google for all the data they have on you? Free email? What about Amazon? They very likely know more about you than you’d be comfortable with, but can you get them to delete it all? Would they delete it all on request? And even if you were happy for them to access your data, what do you get from them? Seriously, what does Amazon give you for all your user data? Nothing, that’s what.

The argument is that they provide a service and use that data to give you a better service. That’s utter hogs wallop. They charge you to access their Prime services. They send you suggested goods and services for you to buy. They don’t discount your purchases or give you micropayments back for every fragment of data.

Facebook is equally bad. People willingly post information and data on Facebook and Instagram daily and Facebook gives them back…what? A ‘free’ service? Well that data is exponentially more valuable to them than the cost of providing your access to the platform.

What if tomorrow Facebook’s utopian cousin launched and charged you $1 per month to access the platform, but collected and stored absolutely no data on you whatsoever? What if, instead of their revenues being advertising dollars, it was subscription dollars? And to access premium features and services, you subscribed to a higher tier?

The world we live in, the networks we use, are fundamentally flawed. It’s one big advertising pool looking for the consumer dollar. Which would be fine, if they were transparent about how they collect access and use data. If they got clear permission for it and delivered something back to the individual who should rightfully own that data.

Will a world where we control the access and rights to our own data exist in our lifetime? I don’t know. I’d like to, but I don’t.

However, I do believe we’re at a crucial point in the conversation about it all.

What we need now is for legislators and lawmakers to etch these rights in stone. You own yourself. You own your data. That should be the right of everyone in today’s world.