Who owns my click stream?

The data we leave behind when using online and mobile services has great value because it can be analyzed to create a comprehensive profile about me.  Such a profile that can be used to give me recommendations — and target relevant advertising to me.  The prospects are both exciting and potentially alarming.

But I wonder — is the collective log of my activities really MY data and should I have more control over what (if anything) is done with it?

What Them Know About Me

Search engines track my searches. Phone companies track my phone calls. Google track my emails. Apple tracks my music listening and purchases. Amazon tracks my book purchases. Linked In knows where I’ve worked, who I’ve worked with and who I know.

Taken together – these crumbs and the crumbs I leave behind in many other places – provide a remarkably comprehensive picture of who I am and what I am doing.

What They Do With It

Their Terms of Service make it clear they own this usage data, but they’ll protect it and not abuse it. And in some cases, they even given me some control over it.

And in general, the convention is that they can use it to serve me better – Amazon recommends books to me and Apple recommends music to me.

And they can use it to deliver advertising to me.  So, Google uses what it ‘reads’ in my email to present me with advertising – sometimes to humorous effect.

But, I don’t think I’ve given them permission to use what they’ve learned about me in one place to serve me somewhere else.  Having said that, there are important and notable exceptions to this: cookies dropped all over the place by advertising platforms being one culprit.  And we don’t really know how much sharing their is among services who have the same corporate owner.

But What’s Possible?

There is a lot more that COULD be done if all my data was consolidated in to a single comprehensive picture.  But, I don’t think people are ready for this.  My conversations with friends ‘outside’ the business, suggest that most people are oblivious to how much data is already being collected.  They are alarmed when I tell them.

So, no, I don’t really want my data being shared and consolidated in some willy-nilly fashion.  Nor do I want these decisions being made behind the closed doors of corporate giants on the basis of services they own or agreements they’ve struck with others.

Instead, I’d like to see this dealt with in a transparent way.

Personally, I think it’s my click-stream.  So, I’d like to have access to it and control over how it gets used.  I WANT to be able to authorize trusted services to use it in specific ways.

We’re headed in to interesting times.

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