Who is responsible for your[1. Remember that in this series, your data is any data that is about you, or is data that you have responsibility for.] data? I’d imagine that most of us would identify ourselves as the person with that responsibility. At least in a perfect world we’d control a large proportion of data that we produce. We’d also want access to the data that others collect about us.
Over time we’ve come to accept that we need the “admin” role in a system[2. Technical: Before you freak out, I accept that someone needs to actually maintain the system. What I’m claiming here is that that person needn’t have access to all the data. In fact, I’m going to make a stronger claim: that they shouldn’t have access to the data.]. That person (or group) needs to wield absolute power over the system to keep it in line. This was pragmatically true in the past but ethically and technologically it is no longer desirable.
Ethically because the “admin” has control over our data by virtue of their position. We haven’t chosen to give them control[3. In a very extreme view of choice we have. By choosing to work somewhere, we have given that organisation implicit permission to do certain things with data. I’ve never seen an org give an explicit description of what would be done and who would be able to see data about you. This may change, it’s already changed for apps. When you install an android app or sign up to something with Facebook or Google as a login-agent you are shown what data you are transferring and usually why they want it.]. I value my agency! If I’m compelled to use a system then I’d prefer if I’m the admin of my section. Then I could give access to others to allow them to use my data or to help me.
Defining what data you are responsible for is going to take a bit of cultural jiggling. We are pretty confident about what things on a project we are are responsible for because we have developed norms. It’ll take time to do the same thing for data. It’s clear that you are responsible for data about you. We need to define your responsibility for data about projects you worked on.
At the moment there is very little upside or downside to bad data. We aren’t currently a data backed organisation. We are becoming more so. If your project’s data is poor quality then that data won’t go onto the website, or worse the poor quality data will go out into the world. The upside of that is you have the chance to make sure that your projects really shine. The chance to make sure that your future plans are able to effect the way that your future actually pans out. More information flow is always a good thing.
This feels abstract and nit-picky but it’s important (to me at least!) But it comes with consequences. If you are the admin of your data then you have a responsibility for the quality of that data[4. If you go along with the idea that the data are valuable and that you are helping your fellow person by maintaining it.]. You needn’t do this yourself, but you do need to take responsibility for it getting done if you delegate it.