Who owns big data?


Business people discussing who owns big dataData ownership has always been a thorny issue, but the era of big data is sprouting bigger thorns. Last century, ownership was like the data equivalent of “you break it, you buy it.” If you own data, you are responsible for it, and can be held accountable if something goes wrong with it (e.g., data quality issues). This meant data ownership usually fell into the bottomless well of the business versus IT debate, which came down to arguing over whether data ownership is equivalent to business process ownership or database management.

But then the big rallying cry of this century became: Data is a corporate asset collectively owned by the entire enterprise. In data-driven enterprises, everyone, regardless of their primary role or job function, must accept a shared responsibility for preventing data quality lapses, and for responding appropriately to mitigate the associated business risks when issues do occur. All the while, individuals must still be held accountable for the business process, database management, data stewardship, and many other data-related tasks within the organization.

With more traditional data, such as the master data describing customers involved in the transaction data describing purchases of the organization’s products and services, it somewhat makes sense that the organization claims ownership of this data on the basis of the direct relationship between them and their customers. While privacy debates were occasionally sparked by the data owned by companies not directly involved in relationships with consumers (e.g., Acxiom), big data has made ownership and privacy much bigger issues.

One of the challenges organizations face when integrating big data into their existing processes and programs is that big data brings in a lot of new data sources from outside the enterprise, making it more difficult for the organization to claim ownership of big data. Furthermore, data used to be something the public did not think about, let alone consider something owned by anyone. But nowadays with companies like Google and Facebook having built financial empires out of big data and mobile providers selling unlimited data plans, data is no longer an esoteric concept and data ownership has become a frequently debated topic.

In recent years, data privacy was at the center of major news stories ranging from governments spying on us to social networks experimenting on us, calling into question who owns all that data proliferating on the Internet and mobile web, generated, and often freely shared, by users via public clouds connected to mobile devices.

As Tamara Dull explained in her big data MOPS blog series, “This privacy issue is only getting bigger, especially as companies and government agencies get better at collecting, analyzing, and (sometimes) selling the data we’re freely sharing with them.” And, she later added: The big data privacy discussion is not just about behavioral advertising, as some would have you believe. Rather, it’s a much-needed, complex discussion about how we can balance privacy, security and safety in an increasingly transparent and dangerous world."

What say you?

Who do you think owns big data? Share your perspective by posting a comment below.

Read more about big data in: Data lake and data warehouse – Know the difference

About Author

Jim Harris

Blogger-in-Chief at Obsessive-Compulsive Data Quality (OCDQ)

Jim Harris is a recognized data quality thought leader with 25 years of enterprise data management industry experience. Jim is an independent consultant, speaker, and freelance writer. Jim is the Blogger-in-Chief at Obsessive-Compulsive Data Quality, an independent blog offering a vendor-neutral perspective on data quality and its related disciplines, including data governance, master data management, and business intelligence.

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  1. Nellie Scott on

    I agree that data ownership is everyone's responsibility. The challenge is getting data stewardship integrated into the functional roles and respective responsibilities and people making the time to manage and work with the data.

  2. Hi everyone,
    I’m a computer engineering student and I’m doing a project which is related to IoT, B2B and data monetization.
    I was wondering if you could answer some questions which could really help me.

    This is the scenario:
    A company sells a service (such as machines or web services) to another company,
    the latter generates data by using this service/machine.

    1. Who can access this data?
    2. Who can monetize this data?

    I want to understand if the first company (which sells the service) can use the data generated by the second company (which buys the service). Furthermore, I’d like to know if the first company can monetize (legally) this data.

    Any examples you have would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you.

    • Jim Harris

      Thanks for your comment, Enrico. The questions you posed are indicative of the today's complex commercial and legal datascape.

      In your scenario, whether the first company (service seller) can access and monetize the data generated by the second company (service buyer) would depend on the service level agreement, i.e., the legally binding contract governing payment of and terms of service.

      And the "legally binding" aspect gets complicated by laws varying within and across countries and regions, and further complicated by where the data is physically located (a shell game often played, especially a decade ago, by companies to claim their service and the data it generated is only subject to the laws of the country where the company and its data stores are physically located).

      This topic has been one of the key drivers behind the rise of data privacy and protection legislation, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which goes into effect in May 2018 and governs companies use of the personal data of European Union (EU) residents — a subject discussed in several recent posts on this blog.

      Best Regards, Jim

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