Data Traffic LightsJune 19, 2014
This isn’t some kind of Internet of Things enabled traffic control system but something that came out of an interview that I did for BBC R&D recently. The interviewer Ian Forrester, asked whether I thought we needed a kill switch so we could turn off the personal data we supply to pervasive and personalised applications. Although the thought is attractive it is somewhat draconian. Many of the devices and services we use rely on the data we give away through our interactions. A kill switch is too binary, it is either on or off.
If you start thinking of a the kill switch as being a filter, albeit one that has two extreme settings, you can then start thinking of creating a system where you have different levels of filtering where the all on or all off are the extremes of the filter settings – perhaps there could be five levels of filtering for example
- Green – All personal data is available to use
- Light Green – Most personal data is available but can’t access my social graph etc.
- Yellow – You can access information about my location but not personal data
- Orange – You can set cookies
- Red – You can’t access any data that reveals who I am or what I do
This is a roughly made up system but conveys the idea. Wouldn’t it be better though if this was reframed as a system where it wasn’t incumbent on the individual to turn the filter settings up or down, but the organisations and companies who develop applications and services to label their products so that we can easily understand what data we are giving them?
Creators of applications and services would probably argue that the way data is used is far too complex to be distilled down into a 5 point system – after all for many it is in their business interests to have access to more data than is required.
Simple traffic light systems do have a track record in making complex issues more understandable. Food labelling is a case in point and although not perfect allows people to make an informed choice about what they eat. Eco ratings for household electrical items also distil complex technical data into an easy to understand ratings system.
The mining and use of personal data by online applications and services is little understood and this ignorance has created an open season as far as our data is concerned. If we had an easy to understand traffic light system, perhaps we would be a little more discerning about where we allow our data to go.
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