Consumers should live in a world where they are paid for their data, says Professor Dawn Song

(United States) Professor Dawn Song of Berkeley wants to give consumers fair value and full control when it comes to personal data. The New York Times reports as follows:

Data is valuable — something that companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon realized far earlier than most consumers did. But computer scientists have been working on alternative models, even as the public has grown weary of having their data used and abused.

Dawn Song, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the world’s foremost experts in computer security and trustworthy artificial intelligence, envisions a new paradigm in which people control their data and are compensated for its use by corporations. While there have been many proposals for such a system, Professor Song is one actually building the platform to make it a reality.

“As we talk about data as the new oil, it’s particularly important to develop technologies that can utilize data in a privacy-preserving way,” Professor Song said recently from her San Francisco office with an expansive view of the bay.

Professor Song, who has taught at Berkeley for a dozen years, has been working to develop techniques and systems that not only can provide security to computer systems, but also privacy. She envisions a world of secure networks where individuals control their personal data and even derive income from it. She compares the world today to a time in human history when people did not have a clear notion of property rights. Once those rights were institutionalized and protected, she notes, it helped revolutionize economies.

She recently started a company, Oasis Labs, that is building a platform that can give people the ability to control their data and audit how it is used. She believes that once data is viewed as property, it can propel the global economy in ways unseen before. “New business models can be built on this,” she said.

Data, of course, is not like a physical object. If a person gives a friend an apple, then someone else cannot have that apple. But data is different, with a property that scientists call nonrivalry. People can give (or sell) as many copies as they want.

Most people give away their data, signing it over to companies by clicking “accept,” not even bothering to read the fine print. Either people online accept the terms and participate in the digital world or they unplug — something that is not really an option for anyone operating in the global economy. Fortunes were built on that data, enriching a handful of entrepreneurs.

(Privacy press clipping sourced via The New York Times)
Jurisdiction: United States

Key takeaways:


  • I give my consent, but what do I get in return? Professor Song aims to answer this question with her analysis and argues for a technical and legal framework under which consumers get fair value for their valuable personal data.

  • Song’s company, Oasis Labs, “has been building a platform to support both enterprises and developers” in making this vision a reality.

  • Using Oasis Labs’ tools, customers would “retain full control and ownership” over their personal data. Song ultimately believes that “people will have an individual revenue stream from their data”.

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