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Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

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Do You Want To Use Ownership to Protect your privacy?

Property and privacy are both ideas that are thousands of years old, but the idea of using intellectual property regimes to protect a person's privacy still hasn't gotten off the ground. Perhaps we are lucky that this is the case. It's not at all clear that corporate America would readily cede such a valuable right to consumers. Americans might end up having to pay rent on their own names in order to use them.

At the Federal Trade Commission hearings on privacy issues, John Ford, vice president for privacy and external affairs at Equifax, said that there are two ways of looking at the ownership of data. Some people say "this is information that belongs to me and therefore you shouldn't be using it," said Ford. "Others would argue that it's not your information, it is information about you."[32]

I keep an address book on my computer with the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of my family, my closest friends, and other people I have met. At last count, there were 1,386 names in the file. I have another file of business contacts. It has 1,579 entries, some with three or four individual names. Would I give people or companies the option to remove themselves from my address book? Probably not. After all, it's my address book.

[32] John Ford, quoted in author interview with Jack Rogers, April 19, 1995.

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