Digital Ownership and the Path to Privacy

What does it mean to "own" something that exists only in digital form? If the answer is we don't really own things that are digital, then does that mean we don't own our private information when it's merely bits of data?

Those questions reflect our inability to value non-physical things. We as customers look at digital goods as less worthy of monetary value, and companies look at customer data as less worthy of privacy.  In both cases, we de-value things that we can't touch.

There are plenty of examples of companies who believe the rules of privacy and ownership are different online than they are in the physical world.  Mobile apps upload our address books without permission, websites track us without our knowledge, media corporations secretly install rootkits on our computers, and online stores sell us digital goods we thought we owned but merely leased instead.

Yes, the tech and entertainment industries pretend they value digital items when they rail against piracy, but they suddenly get fuzzy when it comes to valuing our digital rights.

Yet piracy also reflects how we as customers value digital data. Many of us pay for music, movies and software when it comes in a box but steal it in digital form, as though the real value of a piece of music is in its packaging instead of in its artistry.

We lash out against companies that violate our privacy, yet fail to see how our unwillingness to value their digital goods in some small way led to the prevalence of a business model that gives the actual product away and earns money by selling our personal information.

And we never noticed that in order to own all this free stuff, the free stuff gets to own us back.

One thought on “Digital Ownership and the Path to Privacy

  1. Damn Nick, there you go being sensible and reasonable.
    Let the flamethrowing hysteria begin.
    You, you evil rationalist you…..

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