It’s not about data ownership, it’s about data control, EFF director says

She believes that by agreeing to certain “Terms of Service,” users abdicate a portion of their rights.

As technology advances, personal data becomes an increasingly relevant topic. Many in the crypto industry hold sovereign finance and data privacy in high regard. Participants’ best efforts may be undermined by centralized businesses and regulating bodies, however, according to Cindy Cohn. Cohn is the executive director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF, a nonprofit entity focused on digital rights. 

Cohn joined a Web Summit panel on Thursday labeled “Internet: Who owns our data?” Pointing toward the title, she explained: “I actually think that’s the wrong question, I think the question is who controls your data.”

She continued:

“You already own your data most of the time in terms of some kind of a version of ownership, but often you don’t control it because you click it away in that clickwrap moment for most of the services that you use. So it doesn’t matter, the ownership is not making a difference, whether it’s there or it’s not, if you can just click it away.”

Clickwrap refers to the terms and conditions that act as a gatekeeper for most modern websites and services. Signing up for a service, such as Facebook or PayPal, requires agreeing to pages and pages of text, often consisting of confusing legal jargon. Not agreeing to the terms as-stated generally means not using the service or website.

Noting data control as a better descriptor of the current situation, Cohn said:

“Controlling your data means that we can put it beyond the scope of a simple clickwrap agreement, and we can say that there are some situations in which your control just cannot be rested from you, it can’t be taken from you. Sometimes maybe not at all, but certainly not with a clickwrap kind of agreement.”

Cohn said improvement may come from altering current legal and technological frameworks, as well as different actions taken by major companies.

One current law in the United States, called the third-party doctrine, effectively forfeits a user’s rights over data provided to services and websites. “All of the non-content data that those companies have, you’ve waived your constitutional protections for them because you’ve given them to a third party,” Cohn noted.

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service recently began a crackdown of the tech behind privacy coin Monero (XMR). The government agency hired Chainalysis and Integra FEC, two crypto analytics outfits, to help them in their efforts.   

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