Head in the cloud

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A recent news story suggested that Bruce Willis, the actor, has sued Apple to allow him to pass his digital music collection on to his son after he passes away, much like an older generation might have left shelves full of 7” records.

Why might he need to resort to legal action? As Dan Jones of the Evening Standard points out, Apple’s terms and conditions state that once a user purchases a song from the iTunes Music Store, they only lease it as opposed to owning it outright.

While it has since emerged that the Bruce Willis section of the story might be untrue, the legal status of your iTunes purchases are not. The thought raises some very interesting questions about data and ownership of it.

Let’s make no mistake. Data is now both a commodity and an essential part of daily life – whether this is your photos, your music, or your documents stored on Dropbox. Advertisers are desperate to get hold of your data to enable them to place targeted adverts in front of you. Terms and conditions, which the vast majority of us all accept without giving a second thought when we sign up to a website or download an app, generally surrender our rights to our data.

This would have been a perverse thought just a few years ago. Imagine Boots announcing that all photos they develop from a film would fall under their ownership. How different is that to Facebook or Instagram declaring that all photos uploaded to their website become their property?

Music downloads in particular are changing the concept of what it means to own a song. Apple’s iTunes Match service now allows the user to purchase and download a song, and then store it in their personal iCloud at Apple’s vast new data centres in America. How long until purchasing a song just means the file gets moved from Apple’s iTunes server to the part of the iCloud that you have access to? Will you ever receive physical ownership of that file on your hard drive? So much for flicking through the liner notes of a CD album.

As The Economist recently put it, “mobile operators know who you call; banks know what you buy; supermarkets know what you eat”. Almost every organisation you now deal with owns extensive amounts of data relating to you. Just attempt to download ‘your data’ from Facebook in a zip file, and you will be shocked by the amount of information that is stored – and available to advertisers. It hardly helps that many of these organisations operate from a variety of different countries and are accountable to different laws and regulations governing data.

There is a whole list of questions that arise from this state of affairs – so much so that the debate could take up a whole section of SCAN rather than simply one article. The key issues to be solved are defining who owns this data, what happens to this data on a day to day basis, and what on earth will happen to this data when we die.

The general population need to decide if the costs outweigh the benefits. To be quite clear, there are substantial benefits to the drive towards cloud storage and the proliferation of data. The thought that I can write a document, store it on the iCloud and not have to worry that my hard drive might crash or that I might lose a pen drive is a great relief. And right now, I am fully aware that Apple are not going to read through this article and pass it off as their own.

However, with the world moving so quickly in this space, just how long will it be until that might be something worth worrying about?

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