We won’t own our own information until we do

Not a week goes by when I hear some story about people displeased with how their own content has been misused. People gripe that entering stuff into Facebook no longer belongs to them. Other people copy-and-paste such stuff into other places. Things go “viral”.

I chuckle at how so many politicians act like we are still in a pre-YouTube era. They say and do stupid things in front of small crowds. Someone inevitably grabs a clip with their phone, posts it to YouTube, and it blazes across the twittersphere. Or someone makes an accusation or promise, and in minutes, a video interview from fifteen years surfaces and gets re-posted to the interwebs.

The truth is, there should be some sense of ownership of our content. If I post something, somewhere, I understand people’s desire to hold onto it and have the last word. Unless you speak it in front of someone else, and they make an independent copy, it makes sense that you should be able to effectively delete your posting. What you said and the repercussions thereof are your own issue to deal with.

The truth is, we can’t “own” anything we write anywhere unless we can wrap it using encryption technology. Essentially, if every blurb you posted was an encrypted bundle, people would have to come to you to decrypt and read it. Throw away the key, and that blurb is gone forever. For certain avenues, like everything I write on Facebook, I can understand retaining a hold on it. And if someone wanted to copy-and-paste it, it would be really nice is the encryption traveled with it. Copy it 1000 times, as long as the wrapper is in place, and you still control it.

But there in lies the rub. Encryption technology has proven far too difficult for mass consumer adoption. Just now, the web is headed towards moving all web traffic from HTTP to HTTPS to prevent intermediate snooping. This should have happened years ago. But the next big leap would be encrypting all email traffic. With people losing laptops and thumbdrives, lots of security breaches have happened. If ALL email was wrapped in encryption, privacy would be a much stronger concept. But the process of doing that is arduous. Exchanging keys, keeping your private key secure, and then entering passphrases all the time is a hassle.

Take that concept and apply it to every other medium in which you write something. Even this blog entry! It’s safe to say, such a concept won’t come to pass until it becomes effortless to prove on a terminal you are who you say you are, and to lock and unlock keys suitably. Seeing the web move to SSL is a good sign. I just hope we can migrate along these paths faster than we can figure out to integrate stuff together smoother. We must own the pipes and the traffic our data rides along.

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