Data is the fuel driving Big Data, IoT, and analytics. Some say, “Data is the new oil,” meaning it is the universal fuel driving the economy. “Data is the new bacon” is the same idea, though tastier.

But if data is so critical, who owns it?

Data ownership is complicated. Really. Really. Complicated; for several reasons. Let’s focus on two.

First, the legal concept of ownership of anything (land, art, oil, your car….) is complicated. Usually, the right of data ownership implies three separate rights. The right to possess something and, the right to use it, and the right to convey it to someone else. Anything made from three components is likely to be tricky.

Second, data ownership is tangled with other rights and regulations. Think about privacy, security, cyber risks, and a host of other things.

“Datafication” is a great example of how data ownership is becoming more complicated. Datafication is the trend of creating digital records of information that used to be only on paper. Property records at the county courthouse used to be in big books. Yes, they were a matter of public record, but you had to go to the courthouse, find the right book, and dig into it. Now, anyone can obtain these records, blend them with other information and create extensive (and sometimes invasive) profiles of people and property. Our concerns about privacy, security, and owning our own data are changing what we feel should be public. That public data, which belonged to no one, feels like “it belongs to me” at some point.

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is accelerating the mass of data available. So, it is also accelerating concerns about issues associated with it. Thousands of Nest™ thermostats could be used to create powerful insight into electrical use (pun intended). This is valuable. How should we think about it?

You probably don’t care if your thermostat data is blended in with a thousand other households, but you might worry about your individual data being used to determine who is home. If your data is shared between Alphabet (the owner of Nest) and you, what rights do each of you have? Nest has an entire webpage dedicated to these concerns. And to keep you happy, Nest seems to have decided to forgo some business opportunities which might not bother you rather than take the risk that you care about.

Nest abandoned some potential data value to make you comfortable as you buy their thermostat.

Nations have different laws about shared ownership. And they have different laws regarding data privacy and security. It seems likely laws about data ownership, and in particular shared data ownership, will vary and may vary widely. This may slow the adoption of some consumer-based IoT.

For Industrial IoT, some of these problems can be avoided. In business-to-business relationships, we should expect to see contracts define data ownership. The European Union has a good start at business law for these kinds of contracts. But U.S. firms have a great deal of experience and legal precedent too. Google, AT&T, and other digital giants have very clear ideas about data ownership and privacy. Oil companies understand their seismic survey libraries are a critical corporate asset.

So, it seems we might expect data ownership to be one of the important differences between consumer IoT and Industrial IoT. Contact us today if you’d like to know more about this topic.