Data brokers and intellectual property: a call for comments

From Katfriend Alexandra Mezulanik (currently completing an internship in The Bahamas at a boutique IP firm, Mosko & Associates) comes the following invitation:
Occasionally there is a window that allows one to see how far the law trails technology. One of these windows took the form of an American television news magazine programme called 60 Minutes (here and here). The programme broadcasts on Sunday evenings via the CBS television network and has the knack of making you feel effortlessly well-informed.

Back in August 2014, 60 Minutes aired this story on data brokers, in whiche Steve Kroft investigated “the multibillion-dollar industry that collects, analyzes and sells the personal information of millions of Americans with virtually no oversight”. The focus on data brokers took into account privacy, advertising, online identifiers and geo-location data.

The content of this news piece left me curious as to what sort of spillover (if any) the development of data brokers will have on intellectual property. As the law already struggles to keep up with information technology, I wanted to address the issues (as I see them: you can access my piece here or download it here) so that other IPKat readers can add their comments. I hope more people will participate in the discussions to help shape this under explored area.
Says the IPKat, Alex's piece looks very much like work in progress, or "thoughts in progress", and the legal, commercial and policy aspects of this topic are much bigger than any eight-page summary can do justice to. Do spare the time to give Alex the benefit of your thoughts, if only in terms of suggested further reading and pointers towards issues she might not yet have had the chance to ponder.

Stop Data Mining Me here
"Everything we know about what data brokers know about you" on Pro Publica here
"Facebook: the new king of data brokers?" on Wired here
How to choose an information broker here
Certification for information brokers here
Data brokers and intellectual property: a call for comments Data brokers and intellectual property: a call for comments Reviewed by Jeremy on Thursday, January 08, 2015 Rating: 5


  1. I think governments selling personal data is an interesting area. The NHS in the UK has a lot of patient data that it could sell to companies that do R&D. Who does that data belong to? There have of course already been scandals of patient data being sold to health insurance companies. They use it to see which people get which conditions at which age and in which region.

  2. How can the data brokers provide verified data? With difficulty.
    Is data per se incorrect or otherwise valuable? Probably – providing someone will make a payment of such data.
    Consider the issue of data entry, taking into account of one (or more) of factors of: dyslexia, tiredness, malice or otherwise.
    Once upon a time a car-park operator invited me to pay a fine for my motorcycle overstaying a period of time in a car-parking bay. But I had never visited such a car-park.
    A car had assumed the identity of my motorbike i.e. its registration number was that of my motor-bike and fortunately there was an easily determined solution. Whilst I am pleased to advise that I was not prosecuted, the matter was worrying and required me to take action to prevent a debt recovery agency visiting my home, even though it would have been a simple issue to confirm with the UK vehicle registration agency (DVLA) to confirm that the Volvo estate car in question was not, in fact, a motorbike.

    This raises the issue of similar and probably far more significant ramifications arising through the use of easily checked but unverified data. The increasing correspondence of names, especially those with common forenames and surnames, for example, means that there will surely be an increase in incorrect decisions being made in the presence of uncorroborated "data".

  3. Awhile back I took a course in Cyber Law.

    One aspect of that course reverberates here, and let me put it this way:

    What is currency?

    Nominally, currency is that which a sovereign state designates as money, and the sovereign state also controls money supply so as to effectuate certain policy matters.

    But there is more than just the nominal version, and businesses have LONG trafficked in these other forms of currency. Does anyone doubt that "sex sells" or that violence, no matter how much we may act high brow and disdain, still runs rampant in our games (and look how much money - the nominal currency - changes hands there).

    The internet and the POWER of data aggregation is not necessarily something new, but rather is merely a new reflection on an age old concept. What the Big Data gatherers have realized is much like the protagonists in the American film, the cult classic, Office Space (not to be confused with the television show The Office), the "fractions of a penny" have value.

    Now your typical web user is rather unaware of the currency of his own information. On its own, that currency is much like fractions of a penny. But those fractions add up - and add up quickly when Big Data can gather them up - and gather them up they do - for basically free of charge.

    Yes, privacy can be implicated. But that is rather a side show to the main event.

  4. An interesting recent book on the subject would be "What stays in Vegas" by Adam Tanner which goes into the history of such and the economic rational behind such.


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