Philip Sheldrake

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Tag: personhood

The misleading name, metaphor defiance, and awesome potential of “personal data” — part 2 of 3

In the preceding post I proposed that reframing personal data as interpersonal data is much more appropriate, more useful, more valuable. I also asserted that data is data — i.e. not like anything else. To support these points, this post explores and dismisses the dominant conceptualisation of personal data as property, and then reviews the less well-known data-as-labour framing.

The problem of the way we frame the opportunity and problem

Data-as-property

Let's linger a while on markets and the fundamental components of money and property. I'm working on the supposition that cryptonetworking may be integral to a future interpersonal data architecture, and given that Bitcoin is the genesis of cryptonetworking, it's doubly instructive to reflect on money.

Money is attributed value, but value is far deeper and broader than the mere monetary sense — in the money can't buy you love sense for example. Nevertheless, our current civilization is monotheistic in its veneration of the market, and our first inclinations when grappling with any shiny new idea is to see if we can't quantify its value and subject it to the manipulations of Adam Smith's invisible hand. Despite quite substantial evidence to the contrary, our idolatry of this mechanism truly marks it out as a religion imho.

Sometimes free markets work best. Sometimes well-regulated markets work best. Sometimes, markets don't work best.
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The misleading name, metaphor defiance, and awesome potential of “personal data”

We have a problem and an opportunity currently labelled "personal data".

The opportunity encompasses nothing less than a complete redesign of our lives and societies and our collective ability to grapple with complex adaptive systems including super-wicked problems — but this will remain elusive until we've wrestled with the "personal data" problem, including the problem of the way we frame the opportunity and problem.

While we needed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to stop some very disrespectful and frankly unethical and harmful practices relating to personal data, no regulation can require innovation. The innovation, indeed transformation, I'm talking about here is in the spirit if not the letter of the regulation. Perhaps the most prominent and simplest explanation for why it cannot be to the letter is contained in the Regulation's first definition (Article 4) by which "an identified or identifiable natural person" is thereafter known as a "data subject", which is entirely the wrong framing for the kind of innovation I envisage.

This topic is core to my work and this post serves two purposes. First, selfishly, it's a way to communicate efficiently without having to repeat the contents on a weekly basis. Second, I hope to identify more like and dislike minds in seeking the collective intelligence needed to explore the bountiful and indeed existentially critical opportunity sooner than later. Read more