My interpretation of Schrödinger’s principle in this context is to equate the cat to personal data. That data has both no value and infinite value whilst “in the box” as nobody can see it, or for that matter use it for anything. Its value is unprovable, and therefore infinite, but similarly is not realised, so is nothing.
Where the value comes is upon opening the “box” and exchanging it with others to allow them to interpret it. The mechanism for doing that in the modern world is predominantly via online services. Just think what happens when you buy something from Amazon (or your chosen boutique retailers, if corporates aren’t your thing)…
Are you presented with a clear message on what data will be collected? How it will be used? What your rights are, and how to take back control via a deletion request if you wish? Are the emails you receive after the purchase, what you wanted? Do they contain relevant offers and information? Can you simply navigate to a central hub and manage your preferences? Are unnecessary blockers put in your way (e.g. obscure links in footer small print, or endless clicks required to specify your choices)? Does any of this influence your decision on whether to use that service again in the future?
For most people the concept of sharing their personal information in return for a service they feel is valuable makes sense, but most don’t read the information presented to them at the time they hand it over, control what they share, nor pay attention to what happens after the moment has passed. Have you ever thought – “ugh – stop emailing me every day!”, or “I don’t remember asking for this content”?
Service providers are aware of the groundswell throughout their customer base around knowledge of data rights, and that we are claiming back sovereignty of our data. They want to engage in a way that is relevant and that generates usable feedback from us about their brand. Most importantly they want their companies to succeed – and they realise that we are the keyholders.
Giving permission to use our personal data is a powerful act. It engenders a relationship with our service providers that is built on an unspoken trust. Trust not to share our data if we asked for it not to be. Trust that our preferences will be accounted for, and that content will be tailored to meet our requests. Trust that what we sign-up to is what is delivered throughout our lifecycle with them. Trust that what they say they do is what they actually do.
For me, the provision of permission to use my data is not something I am fearful of. It is something that I understand should provide value back to me. That in testing how service providers and retailers handle my data is the best way to give them the opportunity to provide the service I want in return.
The first step in realising the value of your personal data is to let it out of the box. If you don’t, how can you tell if it’s alive, or of any value?