Telematics and privacy – who owns the data?

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The Internet of Things – or IoT – is rapidly engulfing the world, transforming previously inert objects into data sources. A torrent of information distributed wirelessly is available to whoever decides to tap into it. With all this data out there, who has the right to keep it, or make use of it?

The person or entity who owns a device that produces data is technically the owner of that data as well. The difficulty begins when trying to decide who is the owner of the device – it’s not always the entity who has possession.

Everything gets more complicated when the data is copied, or transmitted. Moreover, data is not protected under the Western rules that pertain to intellectual property. But data “title rights” are considered similar to copyright.

The situation is similar to what happens when a person writes a book. That author can allow a publisher to his or her book and sell it. But he or she can’t control how a reader uses the information contained in that book. The reader owns the text at that point.

A parallel situation exists in which some information cannot be owned, even if it is personal. A driver who passes the necessary test receives a license, which has a unique number. But the license holder can’t sell that number, or buy one legally from somebody else.

Additionally, a restriction applies when the information is sensitive or subject to privacy concerns. A physician or health care company may be in possession of patient data but is governed by a body of legislation that lists specific rules regarding exactly when this data may be shared, and with whom.

In general, in the Internet of Things an entity that legally owns data, has title to it only until it is copied or transmitted, at which point the person in possession of that copy may make use of it.

Some might ask why it matters who claims ownership of this information. Most of it is mere bits of electronic energy, of apparently no intrinsic value.

The truth is quite different. We’ve heard the expression that knowledge is power. Where data is concerned, organizations have found ways to profit from access to knowledge that pertains to their marketplace.

Companies have been making use of information provided by connected devices for some time — and converting these insights into profit. In one well-known example, Wal-Mart’s quick growth in the 1980’s was due in part by gathering and analyzing records from connected cash registers to produce buyer profiles.

The rise of IoT technology means that much more of the data stream from connected devices is about to be employed this way, by retailers and others. This is also accessible to a wider group of interested parties because much of this information is being stored outside of data centers, in the cloud — potentially making data mining much easier.

The spread of connectivity accomplished by IoT can result in a wider range of entities developing an interest in the information. The publication Silicon Angle points out that an autonomous motor vehicle is operating in a sphere that intersects with the functions of “urban planners, law enforcement officials, automakers, tire producers, public works departments, event organizers, insurance companies, weather forecasters and radio advertisers, to name a few.”

The Internet of Things is becoming a wide-open world of connectivity, but some organizations are nonetheless dedicated to protecting the individual resources of their clients. Telematics system provider Teletrac Navman has been involved in the IoT for quite a while, offering solutions for vehicle navigation, tracking and fleet management. The firm unwavering in its view of who owns the client’s data. The answer is, the client. Michael Bloom, the company’s director of product management for business intelligence, put it this way: “We want to put our customers in a position to be successful because of us, not beholden to us.”

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Sarah Barbod

Sarah is a digital content producer with over 10 years of writing and editing experience. She currently serves as a content marketing specialist for a leading international telematics company where she publishes about telematics and the transportation and construction industries.