The time is right to treat human data as personal property

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Imagine for a moment you’re a typical suburban homeowner. On a sunny Saturday morning you decide to mow your lawn. You go to the garage and throw open the door, expecting to see your lawn mower where you always leave it.

With a shock you see your lawn mower is gone. Someone has taken your property!

Then you hear a familiar sound. It’s your lawn mower. You run to the fence that stands between your property and your neighbor’s. Peeking over the fence, you see your neighbor using your lawn mower. “Excuse me,” you call out. “That’s my lawn mower. I didn’t give you permission to use it.”

Your neighbor says, “Gee, I’m sorry. Of course, it’s your lawn mower. I’ll return it right away.”

It’s a cut-and-dried situation, right? The lawn mower is your property and you’re entitled to control it however you wish. Even if he’s a nice person, your neighbor can’t take it without your permission.

But what if your neighbor had instead replied, “Sorry, but the law is ambiguous. There are loopholes. I didn’t really steal your lawn mower. You weren’t using it, so I borrowed it. If you want to call a lawyer, go ahead.”

You’d be infuriated — and rightly so. You might even want to call the police to report a theft.

Learn more about transforming digital identity into trusted identity

Our personal data is increasingly being taken, much like your lawn mower

All across commerce, a similar scenario is being re-enacted every day. Only instead of lawn mowers, the property you own that’s being taken is your personal data, particularly in areas of health care, geospatial, media consumption and personal consumer behavior.

Our immediate focus is to help you claim property rights on health care information; the diseases you’ve had, the medications you’ve taken, the tests you’ve had done and even your genetic profile. This information is of tremendous value to health care companies, drug companies and insurance companies.

What’s even more interesting is that your data is not just being shared, it’s being sold at a profit. The healthcare industry that you trust with your privacy may be, at this moment, bundling your data with that of other patients and selling it to the highest bidder. It’s a huge market that analysts say is worth between $150 and $200 billion a year — and it’s growing.

Sadly, as an individual there’s not much you can do about it. You can complain, but your protests will fall on deaf ears. Or the data seller will point to a user agreement or consent form that you signed and say, “See? On page 24, paragraph 6, subsection 10, it says we can sell your data.” You feel as though you’ve been snookered — and you surely may have been. works with IBM Blockchain to offer a solution

The problem of the uncontrolled healthcare data market is growing more acute every day, and finding a solution is imperative. Fortunately, the solution is in sight — and what’s even better, it will benefit both individual consumers and the companies that seek to leverage health care data for beneficial purposes.

The foundation of the solution is found in blockchain, the emerging technology that can do two things really well: It can keep immutable records of data belonging to people, organizations or machines in a secure, but accessible manner; and people, organizations or machines can transact in a trusted, transparent, and yet private manner on said immutable records at scale. Even with the power of blockchain as the underpinning, it’s still a big job! Taking on a problem of this magnitude requires a unique partnership between an organization that knows the challenges and can visualize the solution and an organization that has the size and expertise to make the solution a reality.

Together, and IBM make a powerful combination.’s innovative global consent ledger creates a highly secure repository of personal data consent, controlled by consumers themselves. The IBM Blockchain Platform and The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric, secured on the IBM Cloud, will support the deployment of the global consent ledger so that it can serve tens of millions of consumers as well as the organizations that seek to leverage their data.

The goal of the project is twofold:

  1. Using a simple phone app called #My31, the partnership will give individual consumers the opportunity to assert their legal property ownership rights and gain title to their data, not unlike holding title to an automobile. The consumer can then provide their consent as to if, how and where they want to give a third-party permission to access their data. A user could choose to share no information at all or choose to lease their data to pharmaceutical companies or data aggregators for fair market compensation.
  2. In what is now a murky legal landscape, the partnership will provide data brokers with legal clarity as they seek to purchase medical data. By trading only in personal data that has been released by the owner, data brokers will derive twin benefits: they’ll have a more valuable product and they’ll be immune from charges of data smuggling. By having blockchain-backed evidence of explicit consent, authorization, lease terms, lease expiration, purpose of use and consideration provided back to the individual via various forms of currencies, services or privileges, transparency and accountability are assured. is particularly pleased and honored to be partnering with IBM because at the end of the day, while technology is important, this project is all about people: their property rights, their expectation of privacy, and yes, how they feel about their property being sold at a profit. It’s about bringing fairness to a system that has grown without adequate controls.

From time to time, we invite industry thought leaders, academic experts and partners, to share their opinions and insights on current trends in blockchain to the Blockchain Unleashed blog. The opinions in these blog posts are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of IBM.

Learn more about blockchain for social good

Trusted Commerce | Blockchain Futurist | Adjunct Professor | Serial Entrepreneur

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