Evil Facebook is gathering your own special data!

-But hang on: local governments are gathering it too.

Article by Steve Mackay

Data is valuable. Misuse of data is a threat. Facebook apologies.

The idea that data is valuable has been simmering in the background for a long time. With Mark Zuckerberg’s apology it has exploded into  the popular consciousness.

Facebook is the whipping-boy for now, as the print and online media work themselves into a frenzy of finger-pointing. Facebook is not just a content-neutral platform, but is a curator of personal, sensitive and sometimes dangerous information. As such it has responsibilities.

That’s the show going on, with lights and action, at the party end of town. Yesterday’s star is today’s pariah.

Meantime, at the working-day end of town, some other folks are gathering personal data – or data which can be personalized.



Some of the more advanced government authorities have started using number plate recognition at car parks – so you can park without having to pick up a token or a ticket.

The convenience is wonderful!

Photo credit: Chris O’Brien Lighthouse

The data captured is unique to one vehicle. A vehicle generally belongs to one person.

So – who owns the personal information that I entered a particular car park at a particular time?

That data could be put to good purpose:

  • My car is stolen. Can I (or the police) use the data to find out if the car was (or still is) at one of the local Car parks?

But it can also be abused:

  • The data records leak out. A bad guy picks up on the fact that a lady’s car was parked near a casino, when she had told her high-profile employer she was at work. Bad guy blackmails employee.

Last year the Australian Privacy Commissioner lost –   and Telstra won –a battle over which data should be considered personal. But not before it had gone through several rounds in the courts.

Which means that the issue over who owns digital data is far from clear, even to the learned folk in the legal system.

Other authorities are grappling with questions of ‘who owns the data?’.

Some local governments are setting out to trial apps to increase engagement among their residents.

Even accepting that they don’t ‘own’ the data, will de-personalize it, and destroy all trace once the app has run –under what circumstance can they ‘share’ it? And with whom?


These everyday examples, along with the “FACEBOOK BILLIONAIRES SHOULD TAKE MORE CARE”headlines, illustrate why a data sharing regime is becoming urgent.

This is a fascinating and important job. It is also a very dry and (likely) thankless one.

It will be done by experts. However, their output will affect all people.

This will be a long journey. Correction – this will be a painstaking journey. But because the need is urgent, we might not be able to wait a long time.

Big though Facebook is, this issue is even bigger. And will continue to simmer – may even come to the boil – until a solution is adopted that works for government bodies and works for citizens.

For an in-depth look at Data Sharing in Smart Cities download the paper by Geof Heydon, who chairs the ACS working group tasked with formulating a data-sharing policy for government bodies.

About the author

steve macky

Steve Mackay is founder of Creator Tech and previous to that had an extensive career in Cisco Systems, based in Beijing then Hong Kong. Steve has spent the last 3 years learning about IoT and Smart Cities from Geof Heydon and others. He was the youngest Drapers Scholar at William and Mary College, the 2nd oldest University in USA; and also studied Town Planning with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris.



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