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Communications of the ACM


Managing Your Digital Life

Managing Your Digital Life, illustration

Credit: Evgeny Bakal

A typical person today usually has dataa on several devices and in a number of commercial systems that function as data traps where it is easy to check in information and difficult to remove it or sometimes to simply access it. It is also difficult, sometimes impossible, to control data access by other parties. One might consider this an unavoidable price to pay in order to fully take advantage of the ever-increasing amount of available information. However, this situation is not only unsatisfactory because it requires users to trade privacy against convenience but also, because it limits the value we, as individuals and as a society, can derive from the data.

We live in a world where data is considered a vital asset and where most people consider they have little, if any, control over their personal data. This is surely detrimental to trust, innovation, and growth. In this world, we are also limited in leveraging all this existing information because it resides in isolated silos kept apart by technical incompatibilities, semantic fuzziness, organizational barriers, as well as privacy regulations. The situation gets worse as the number of data sources keeps growing.


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