Data ownership is an often overlooked, yet vitally important detail to consider when dealing with data lakes. The sheer amount of data both organisations and individuals across the globe produce, has led some to consider data as a” next natural resource.” But with this new definition comes old questions: Who owns the data in your system?

Who owns your data?

Data ownership can be a tricky issue, depending on where said data is stored. Many social media website terms and conditions, for example, state that ownership of a user’s data remains the property of the user and can be deleted or modified at will. These sites do have conditions that allow the hosting organisation to use said data for their own commercial needs, granted, but the data itself remains the property of the originator. What are the legal ramifications when this data finds its way into the hands of independent marketers or third-party organisations?

Take the relatively recent WhatsApp/Facebook data sharing drama, for example. Facebook sought to link user profiles across the two networks and subsequently share WhatsApp messages with advertisers for potential monetisation on Facebook. This decision immediately fell afoul of a number of country’s international data protection laws, including the UK’s, with the Information Commissioner (ICO) launching an immediate investigation. This raised questions over what rights Facebook had to transfer data it did not explicitly own between its two services. Another example involving Facebook is 2015’s  Hulu privacy case.

Hulu found itself in hot water with privacy advocates when it was forced to defend against claims centring on the disclosure of user information to third parties, such as Facebook. The claim was that ‘the Like button was configured so that it transmitted the titles of the videos users watched to Facebook’s servers regardless of whether the user clicked the Like button indicating that the user liked the clip’, Facebook would then, quite independently of Hulu, use this information for its own advertising purposes on its own website.

With the sharing of data across multiple websites occurring almost as fast as the data itself can be generated, the question of ownership and consent to share becomes increasingly important to consider.

Using a strong and flexible data analytics tools is an effective way to analyse properly structured data with a view to identifying what data has come from where, and allowing the organisation to act on that data accordingly.

Remember: Just because a system has collected or has access to a particular set of data does not necessarily transfer ownership of that data. Due diligence when using or sharing any information in your data lake will go a long way to protecting against possible litigation.