The underlying philosophy underpinning all attempts to level the online playing field is a belief that an individual’s data belongs to him or herself and that no one should have access to it except on terms that are controlled by the data owner. The hunt is on, therefore, for technologies (software and/or hardware) that would make this both possible and be easy to use. An interesting idea of how to do that surfaced last week in a paper by computer scientists from Queen Mary University of London and Cambridge University.
The basic concept is a Databox, a piece of software that collects personal data and then manages how that information is made available to third parties. In essence, it’s “a networked service that collates personal information from all of your devices and can also make that data available to organisations that the owner allows”.
And although the Databox is conceived of as a virtual platform, in that it involves multiple devices and services, at least one instance of it will exist in a physical form, for example as a small box that also functions as a home hub.
Getting from here to a service that is usable by normal human beings will, no doubt, be a long and winding road. Among the problems to be solved are thorny issues of trust, security and user-friendliness. But, like Lanier and Searls, the Databox project researchers are on the right track. As the Chinese say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This is it.