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Counting the cost of data as currency

  • 12 March 2018


As we become more reliant on the internet in almost every aspect of our lives, we are entering into a bargain the extent of which is difficult to comprehend.

Each time we go online, we leave a part of ourselves that is collected by private companies, and by government. We leave a trace of our location (often quite precise), our thoughts and interests, and frequently, we leave explicit personal and private information.

Largely these digital crumbs serve us well, contributing to a convenient and time-saving online experience. We can find friends and loved ones, we are offered goods and services likely to meet our needs, and we learn information that is immediately relevant, served to us in milliseconds.

The sum of our digital crumbs becomes our digital persona through the addition of other data sources. We wear devices that measure our bodily functions. Facial recognition technology is becoming ubiquitous. The Queensland government has rushed through legislation to permit police to use biometric facial recognition technology — with barely a nod to a community consultation process.

Increasingly our homes, workplaces, entertainment venues, public spaces, and even our cars, collect information about ourselves and our movements that are distributed to corporations and to government.

Much of the data that corporations collect about us, they share with government, and vice versa. The Productivity Commission reported in 2017 about ways in which the government and corporations could benefit from sharing data.

A key Productivity Commission recommendation was that a 'comprehensive right' be established, to 'lift up the opportunity for consumers and offer a genuine two-way street to support their continuing willingness to supply a crucial input to business, research and public policy — namely, their data (whether obtained directly or through other channels)'.


"To the extent that we ever have control over our own data in this context, once our data is aggregated and processed, we lose control over it."


In other words, the recommendation encourages the collection of our data for the benefit of government and business. But at least the proposal affords us — as citizens and consumers — some control over our own data.

The question that goes begging in the discourse around data is beyond any 'right' for us to control collection, storage, or deployment of our digital crumbs. More on point is the question of just how we might control that data, and how we lose our data once it is transformed into insights — say, through