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Brittany Kaiser: our data is traded around the world without our explicit consent


We produce data, and we should get paid for it. After all, data is a commodity more valuable than oil and gas, Brittany Kaiser, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, and co-founder of Own Your Data foundation, reckons.

“Our data, our most personal information, has now become the world’s most valuable asset, more valuable than oil and gas. Therefore, our personal information has become a commodity in a multi-trillion dollar market and is being bought and sold and traded around the world without our explicit consent,” said Brittany Kaiser at the Future Human conference.

According to her, having the right to privacy, we still don’t have any ownership or rights over our data in most countries around the world. Being the producers of the world’s most valuable asset, we are not receiving any value in return.

“Lack of transparency around our data and lack of rights is the tip of the iceberg. Every single day we are producing exponentially more data than the day before. So the issues and complications with understanding everywhere in the world that our data has gone to, and who has access, and what they might be using it for, it’s only going to get more difficult,” she said.

Brittany Kaiser tweet screenshot

Data should be our property

When she started working as a technologist on the first Obama campaign, she believed that technology could make the world a better place.

“The more data we collected about people, the more we could understand how to get them activated, engaged, registering to vote for the first time, caring about what was important to them and their families,” she said.

But, after spending many years in the data science industry - at Cambridge Analytica, she learned that technology tools might be unbiased themselves. It is just a matter of who is using that cutting-edge technology.

“If this type of tech gets into the wrong hands, it can easily be abused,” she said.

A couple of years ago, Brittany Kaiser became a Cambridge Analytica whistleblower. She has spent the past few years working with legislators, investigators, and activists to make sure every single person is protected and that we have more rights over our data than we did before.

Lack of transparency around our data and lack of rights is the tip of the iceberg. Every single day we are producing exponentially more data than the day before. So the issues and complications with understanding everywhere in the world that our data has gone to, and who has access, and what they might be using it for, it’s only going to get more difficult,

Brittany Kaiser said.

“It has been very difficult for us to ensure that we have our human right to privacy. What is the easiest law to enforce? It’s property law. Around the world, if you own something like your property, you have a lot of rights over what happens to it. We are to own our data just like we own any other important asset, like our car or our house,” said Brittany Kaiser.

She likes to compare data protection to the Airbnb model. If you want to rent an apartment, which is someone’s property, you have to tell the owner who you are, what you are going to do with the property, and for how long you are going to use it.

“We agree on the price, and I get paid before I hand you my keys. That’s how I see the future of data ownership,” Brittany Kaiser said.

In Minnesota, where she was the only expert witness in the first successful case suing Equifax for property damage for their massive data breach, data is now considered property because of this specific case.

“And I believe that’s where the law is heading. To make sure that we have a legal recourse of what is done with our most private information,” Brittany Kaiser said.

Should we get paid for our data?

Brittany Kaiser has this very bold idea that everyone on this planet could make enough money to feed themselves and their families just from their data monetization.

“Data can become the great equalizer in society. We could earn a universal basic income of the value being the producer of valuable data sets. Whether this data can be used for medical research to make sure we can cure cancer, and diabetes, and other illnesses more quickly, or whether we can use it for smart cities to make sure that we are not going to have that next traffic accident, or even on a larger scale, don’t have that next mass shooting or terrorist attack,” she said.

So, what’s next? Firstly, education on data rights, media literacy to spot fake news and disinformation, and emotional intelligence on social media is very important.

The world also needs laws and regulation that allows us to own our data, that give us transparency, opt-in, consent mechanisms, and the ability to monetize our digital value.

Lastly, we need ethical technology: “I am working with companies around the world that are building solutions to some of our greatest problems, and I believe that the future of advanced encryption, AI, robotics, blockchain, is going to give us that technical back end to make sure that we can implement the laws that are meant to protect us.”

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