The Internet of Things, Data Centers, and Property Rights
Anyone involved in IT, and especially in data center technology, has undoubtedly heard the chatter about the Internet of Things and what it means for the industry. Are data centers capable of handling the constant tsunami of information flowing in from 50 billion connected devices? What about bandwidth? Is the cloud up to the task, or is fog computing the only feasible solution? There’s one question, however, that isn’t receiving a lot of attention: Who owns that data?
Assigning ownership isn’t as simple as it sounds. Just think about connected medical implants. The manufacturer has a vested interest in the data the device collects, both for purposes of quality and for future innovation. The doctor is another stakeholder: The main purpose of a connected device is to provide the doctor with up-to-the-minute, easily accessible information about a patient’s well-being. And then there’s the patient, who is understandably concerned with both privacy and the security of such personal information. Who has dibs on collecting and storing that data? Who can access it? And, more importantly, who decides which parties can’t access it? Can the gatekeeper charge for access to the data? If so, who has to pay, and who owns that revenue?
Smart cars provide another good example. They’ll collect all kinds of extremely personal data: where the car has been, the speed at which it was driven, etc. Where will that data be stored, and who will be granted access? Law enforcement? A suspicious spouse? A plaintiff’s attorney? The IT industry has talked about – and continues to discuss at length – the best ways to secure data. But we’ve only begun to think about things like ownership and property rights.
Under current U.S. law, no one can own a piece of data. Property rights can apply, however, to a particular collection of data – or, more accurately, the way in which that data is stored, analyzed, and presented – if there has been a significant investment of resources in its development. So that would suggest, for example, that a patient has no inherent right to the information collected from their medical implant. That’s because the information would have to be presented in a way that’s consumable, and that presentation could be owned.
The Internet of Things will have implications that reach far beyond the technical. There are significant, far-reaching legal and ethical considerations, as well. Until the legislatures and the courts hash it out, it’s incumbent upon CIOs and data center managers to do some serious thinking about database ownership. Do you have a protocol in place?
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