Data Privacy & Portability: Who owns what? Who can see what?

Facebook LogoThe privacy and portability of your online data may become more of an issue in 2008. News is out today of a Federal case which will investigate whether the use of a false identity could be considered Internet fraud under federal statutes. This was originally triggered by the October 2006 case in which a 13-year-old named Megan Meier committed suicide after receiving “cruel” messages on MySpace (messages allegedly received from the mother of a school rival who was posing as a 16-year-old boy).

Take this news and mix in this BBC piece which discusses how Facebook will have an uncomfortable year due to privacy issues, and we’re back to question of who owns what data online? And who should be able to see what? These are not easily answered questions. After all, there are different types of data (email address vs. phone number, for example) and different types of decision makers (13-year-olds, twenty-somethings, baby boomers, etc.).

But even if more control and ownership were given back to the user, we’d still see conflicting opinions. For control, how granular should it be? While I may want lots of levers to pull for sharing and unsharing tidbits of my information differently with different people, someone else may find that confusing. And for ownership, how will we deal with the viral nature of information spreading? Even if you “own” something, what stops anyone with whom you’ve shared from doing whatever they want with your theoretically “owned” data?

It’s a big mess that many don’t care about (or are perhaps in denial?). But 2008 is shaping up to be the year where online data control and ownership will be in the spotlight.