The Data Industrial Complex

At a keynote this week (video, transcript), Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, outlined some of the issues that we face in this world where technology is being used to gather, hoard, sell, and use tremendous amounts of data. He used the term data industrial complex, a take off of the military industrial complex that has industry working closely with government in a way that might make some of us uncomfortable. Or may align interests that benefit the few over the many.
I know that Apple has been on both sides of this debate in recent years. If you get all your data, you might be surprised. There have been concerns about tracking, about the storage of messages, even after phones are wiped, and other issues. At the same time, Apple has provided tools and protection that have stymied law enforcement and upset governments with their encryption.
This isn’t to defend or laud Apple in any way, but rather to note that privacy issues around data are complex and of a concern. I like the general topics that Mr. Cook outlines, and I do think that we have lots of work to do in these areas, both as private organizations and with public laws and frameworks that outline rights and responsibilities, while still allowing innovation and creative use of data.
That is a hard balance to strike, and I really don’t quite know how I want my data used and protected. At times I want to prevent the use of data for purposes I haven’t agreed to, but at other times I appreciate the creative and helpful use of information about my life. I’m not even consistent about the ways in which I treat my own data at times, which reminds me of the complexity in dealing with sensitive data about individuals.
The GDPR, which took effect this year, and similar laws (CCPA, AUS Privacy Act, etc.), are a good move forward, in my opinion. They might go too far in some ways, or be too lax in others, but we need to start the discussion and examine the effects of some concrete rules in the real world. My hope is that we have a regular and constant debate on how we should treat data in an increasingly connected world that gathers larger volumes and more types of data than ever before in our history.

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