The tricky problem of data ownership

Data has become ever more important for businesses, yet the issue of who owns it has become equally more difficult to determine.


Data Ownership Innovation Technology Big Data Analytics Digital Digitalisation Stock - image courtesy of DepositphotosWhen it comes to data ownership, it would appear that there aren’t any easy answers – particularly for manufacturers.  

Take the example of an automobile drivetrain with various embedded sensors and fitted to a vehicle. Who owns the data being generated – the driver, the dealer, the OEM or the supplier?

The Manufacturer recently sat down with John Fryer, senior director of industry solutions for global fault tolerant computer servers and software company, Stratus Technologies, to discuss his perspective.

“A question about data ownership on its own is too simplistic. A better question would be, who can most benefit from owning that data? In the case of the drivetrain, you would ultimately expect that to probably be the dealer and the manufacturer.

“The driver would hopefully recognise the benefit of those two owning that data, or at least having access to it, because you don’t want that drivetrain to fail while travelling at 70mph or while driving in a foreign country, for example.

“There’s benefit to the dealer in being able to say there’s a problem. From the manufacturer, if they are collecting the data from everything, then they can analyse it and see whether there is a design problem putting undue stresses and strains on parts, and whether a recall is potentially required.”

Where it gets trickier, Fryer continued, is who owns the data coming from the engine, i.e. how many revs is it being run at, is it consistent, is it out of the optimum norm? The answers to those questions could help indicate whether the driver is operating their vehicle safely. If they aren’t, what happens next?

“I don’t think anyone has sufficiently answered that particular question yet, and an answer to the wider one around ownership in general does need to be found. Businesses and industry can’t continue to operate in an international grey area, especially as technology evolves.”

“From an automation perspective, most plants will say that the data is theirs and they decide where that data goes. Most are happy to have the OEM come in to fix a fault and open all their data to them at that point, but therein lies the issue – outside contractors coming in and accessing internal systems, using memory sticks, etc.

“That represents a significant threat to cybersecurity, whether intentionally or by accident. There’s just so much education that needs to take place, even on the most basic level, to prevent easily avoidable mistakes from happening and companies unwittingly creating huge vulnerabilities for themselves.

“I once worked with a start-up applying machine learning technology to cybersecurity. They had their own honeypot which they hung outside their firewalls. Bearing in mind that they were a small start-up that nobody had really heard of, they received around 30,000 attacks a day. That demonstrates that cyberattacks are a very real issue and education is absolutely vital in helping to overcome them.”

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