In a way we should be grateful for LinkedIn’s decision to shut off its API access to some companies, as it highlights an important issue: the issue of data ownership. Linked with this issue of data ownership is also the shift from walled garden to open system, from traditional brands to social brands, from believing a company can ‘own’ an individual to the notion of knowing your customer to their own benefit.
The belief of companies that they own the data an individual has uploaded to their website is wrong. The data still belongs to the individual. Therefore it’s the individual’s decision as to where this data set will be displayed. A company like LinkedIn should be celebrated for enabling convenient inclusion of the individual’s data into a third party service.
Therefore, if an individual chooses to make certain parts of his data ‘public’ and it can be found in, for example, Google, then other services can use the data. As it is the individual’s decision to make this data public and he/she can change the settings for non-inclusion.
However, a company still has the duty of care that nobody siphons off the ‘non-public’ data for a use that the individual hasn’t given their express permission. However, a company is in breach of its contract with the individual, if it changes privacy setting to public without the express permission of the individual.
In recruiting circles this issue takes on a different slant, when it comes to the question of who owns the LinkedIn contacts, the individual recruiter or his/her employer? Think of it from the individual’s perspective, who did they connect with, the company or the individual? You are right, the latter, as people connect with people. People don’t connect with companies. Therefore the employer has no claim.
This debate needs to continue and needs to be at the forefront of people’s minds. Data – and here I’m not talking of static data like a LinkedIn profile – but data gleaned through actions with companies and other individuals becomes more and more valuable for companies to access. It becomes very important for individuals to understand that they own their own data and maybe they will demand a cut from any revenue generated with their data that isn’t linked to the primary use of the site. Crucially, it becomes equally important that companies become aware that they don’t own their customer and they actually never did, but that they can only ever know the customer to their own benefit. This shift will continue with social media putting the individual at the heart of everything.