What data rights are for
They are for you, for now and for the future
Data rights are about control. They are about controlling who your data is used by, when it is used, how it is used and who it is shared with.
But what is the purpose of giving people control over their data? Why would you ever want to exercise these rights?
The answer is simple. The purpose of controlling your data is to prevent the harm that could occur if your data are misused.
But what are these harms that you might want to prevent? There are several.
The invasion of your privacy is perhaps the most obvious one. If your data are disclosed to someone when you expected confidentiality, undesired consequences could follow.
For example, imagine your messaging app deploys software that reads every message before you send it. And imagine this is done without your consent or even your knowledge.
Then imagine that software inaccurately determines that you are sharing illegal content. A false positive that results in your account being flagged and potentially reported to law enforcement.
How would this make you feel? Aggrieved, betrayed, spooked, and probably much more.
If the messaging app had encrypted your messages throughout their entire journey, from creation to delivery, then their confidentiality could have been maintained. Access to your messages by ineffectual software would not have been possible.
Having data rights means that your communications remain confidential. Data rights require that your messages should only be read by your intended recipients, and nobody (or nothing) else.
But the invasion of your privacy is not the only harm that could arise from data misuse. Data rights are supposed to guard you from more than that.
Think about your social media feed. As you scroll through it, you might see all sorts of content that appeals to you, which you like, comment on or share.
You might see funny memes, the latest online trends, and other weird quirks of internet pop culture. All fairly innocuous, all quite normal.
But as you scroll, like, comment, share and so on, you are constantly being monitored. All this activity is being recorded.
What happens to this information? It feeds a recommendation engine, a system that powers your social media app.
This engine contains algorithms that are designed to keep your attention for as long as possible. It does so by watching what you do and figuring out what you like.
Once it figures out what you like, it shows more of it on your feed. It does so over and over again, keeping you scrolling for longer and longer.
But this recommendation engine is not limited to learning what you like. It will learn what makes you scared, what makes you angry and what makes you sad, too.
This is because the engine is optimised to keep your attention, regardless of the content that achieves this. It is therefore capable of showing you the good stuff and the bad stuff.
Inevitably, this will influence the experience you have on the app. And maybe even for the worse.
Perhaps this takes you down a dark rabbit hole that seems impossible to escape from. Your digital existence becomes clouded with a pervasive negativity, emanating from a pane of glass in the palm of your hand.
And perhaps this impacts your mental health, your work, your relationships, or a host of other things in your life. The online has interfered with the offline, infringing on your peace.
These are not just harms that could happen. These are harms that have actually happened before.
And it is these kind of harms that data rights can protect you from. It is your data rights that allow you to dictate your destiny as you navigate through the digital world.
Instead of being subject to the negative feedback loops of recommendation engines, your data rights give you the chance to opt out. They require the option to revert to a chronological feed instead, an avenue back to relative tranquility.
Such control will only become more important as the digital world evolves. This is especially the case when considering the technological paradigms that might occur in the future.
But we are not always able to exercise this control effectively on our own. This is why data rights law exists, to ensure that our rights are upheld by default.
It is data rights law that requires organisations to use our data responsibly. And it is data rights law that requires regulators to reprimand those organisations that fail to do so.
However, this does not always happen. Despite these laws, and the hard work of data rights professionals to apply them, bad data practices still occur.
Maybe we need better laws and better enforcement of those laws. But the fact that bad data practices happen also means something else really important.
It means that data rights start with you. It means being conscious about what services you use, the data they collect about you and what the consequences might be.
This can seem daunting. But the more you embrace the digital world, the more crucial this proactivity becomes.
So use messaging apps that encrypt your communications. Use social media platforms with chronological feeds.
Take control of who gets to see your messages. Take control of your experience on social media.
Data rights are not just rules that others must observe and implement. Protecting your data is not something that just happens.
It is something that you can make happen. So make sure you do so, whenever you can, with diligence and efficacy.
Your data rights are for you. For now and for the future.
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