Keeping Private Data Private


Picture this. It’s 2029, and a new super-jumbo internet company wants to analyze its users’ data. The CEO and Chief Data Officer task the analytics department with figuring out which users are the most likely to turn into customers. The analytics department is relatively shielded from the rest of the organization because having analysts with a “data clearance” is required by the company’s legal department. And the reason is that data about a user’s behavior was legally defined to be part of said user’s intellectual property.

Previously, I’ve written about a few different policy positions that we / CHT could consider researching and advocating for. One example would be advocating for legally requiring all digital products to have a paid, non-ad version; another is to force companies not to “game” when they surface notifications. (More details, with some thinking on enforcement mechanisms, can be found here. In fact, I think it would be great to go through the ledger of harms and see if there aren’t policy positions that would help address each item in it.

In terms of corporations exploiting my data, if how I use a website is part of my intellectual property, then the current problem is solved. Prior to now, when you read a book, the book wasn’t recording how you read it. But if you read an Ebook, it is a good bet that the company who makes the ebook reader is recording how much time you take to read each page. If in reading a physical book I take notes in the margins, underline a phrase, or draw a square around a paragraph, is this not part of my IP?

I’m not a lawyer nor legal scholar. But this seems like it’d be interesting to research further. What do you think? Is what I’m proposing feasible?


@hmswaffles I think this is an interesting avenue to explore. I am not lawyer either, but here is a list of EFF cases that could be interesting to look through. Maybe someone has tried something similar, or maybe this could give you some ideas.
EFF Legal Cases

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@Siddhi, good thinking – the EFF (and maybe also Mozilla?) would be great to reach out to for this. My understanding is that CHT doesn’t currently have any in-house lawyers. I’ll dig a bit and see what I find.

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You know, maybe there are some lawyers on the forum that could input. Try making a help wanted post and see what happens!


Recruiting a corporate lawyer to get involved may help. Your mind seems to follow a logical path as such to lead such a project- but a consultant to polish and work together would be great too.

How to recruit qualified volunteer lawyers? Keep this in mind- some lawyer may be passionate about this and want to donate time… San Francusco Bay Area is loaded with lawyers and schools. Maybe you could start recruiting or networking at some of those schools?

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@healthyswimmer totally agree. I don’t know if the CHT staff has a general counsel. I have reached out to the EFF; we’ll see if they get back to me. I’m also pursuing other means of making this idea more concrete.


EFF? I don’t know what this is…


Ah, the Electronic Frontier Foundation; a leading legal advocacy group that focuses on the intersection of tech and the law.


Great contribution thanks!!