On Data Horticulture
“The last decade has been about sharing. The next decade will be about protecting.” – Dave
If there’s anything that this summer’s revelations about government eavesdropping, spying, and surveillance have taught the world it’s that we are truly inseparable from our data. Our personal data is growing exponentially, and it’s something we will all eventually need to wrangle with. We’ve moved from a world where 1% of the population creates content to one where 100% of the population creates data. It’s a world that necessitates an active understanding of our digital footprints, not just for personal brand management, professional SEO, and better online experience, but most importantly for security.
Tools that do exist to help with data pruning and management, like 1Password or LastPass, can involve new cumbersome processes, lengthy setups, and constant monitoring. Even then, most solutions are just security, credential and form filling managers, only maintaining a small slice of personal information. A few outliers, like TicTrac, show promise as they try to make sense of our data, but aren’t quite comprehensive enough or fully-baked.
Despite being so critical, tending to one’s digital footprint with current tools is difficult. Rather than being able to to periodically and carefully prune to maintain, most of us are stuck with slash and burn solutions, if we’re able to control our data at all. Take one glance at Just Delete Me and it becomes blazingly obvious — many sites are challenging to remove data from, while others are impossible. And for the Ron Swansons of the world, the ability to go off the grid and live truly incognito, is only a tortured dream for the time being.
Services that encompass and control the broad scope of one’s identity from conception to death — the academic records, financial records, medical records, quantified self and more — don’t exist. Due to disparate industries and knotty regulatory issues, they might not exist for a while.
And that’s a problem.
For many people this isn’t an issue (or at least they don’t know it yet). There may always be the blissful mass that logs into their Facebook and bank accounts with the same password, sometimes literally “password”. Or even the perennial Carlos Dangers who refuse to accept that the distinction between private and professional life has gotten incredibly blurry. For others that have a basic awareness of security and social networking norms, attempting to take control of the info they distribute can be overwhelming. Site logins pile up. Social tags can happen without one’s knowledge. Previous identities and thickets of data fall to the wayside, but remain in the digital ether. Life gets busy.
These are tools we need now. The fact that there’s not really a metaphor for what such a tool would look like, makes this much more apparent (aka no “‘Mint’ of digital life or “‘Netflix’ of personal data).
We need to be able to have access to our data, along with the ability to export, fix, clarify, and when necessary, delete it. Some tools and legislation address pieces of this problem, but no comprehensive solution seems to be in sight. There is a huge opportunity here. It’s an opportunity that will only continue to grow as we learn to grapple with our data, our family’s data, and what to do with all of it after we pass away. In the long run, it’s in businesses best interest to enable us and offer more influence over our data. For us, it’s a question of whether or not we cede our identities to forces beyond our control or manage them in the way we see fit. And as the digital world is increasingly tailored to who we are, managing our data will ensure that our reality is reflected as accurately online as it is offline.
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