Kaitlin Pike

We’ve seen a number of big media splashes this year about bad user data practices: data theft at Playstation, Facebook’s ever-changing privacy policies, Apple’s iPhone tracking scandal. But how does this affect the younger, smaller startups building their business on user data? How can they prevent similar fiascos and what best practices should they follow?

Attorney Christina Gagnier will answer these questions Thursday at her Web 2.0 Expo session Law and Data. Christina has been active in the field of intellectual property since 2002, and she regularly consults for technology firms on policy issues, including those about user data.

“Big data isn’t going away,” she said. “There’s a lot of money to be made on it.” Unfortunately, there’s not much direction from the law on how to handle user data, and who owns it. For instance, one iteration of Dropbox’s terms of service this year claimed they owned content you uploaded – something users railed against. But a lack of a terms of service can do just as much damage to your company.

“Ninety percent of the time people had something happen to them and they want a response,” Christina said. “That ten percent  is out to get you… You have to have procedures on your website to take consumer complaints.”

The law surrounding user data moves too slowly for the fast pace of startups, Christina said. Lawyers aren’t necessarily the most technologically advanced professionals, and many judges are not abreast of the latest technology and user data issues. This is also true for many in government. Christina said Congressional committee members  who hold hearings on such topics as Facebook’s privacy policies aren’t technologists. Because of this, companies dealing with data and those making laws about data have frequent miscommunications.

Currently, no federal laws deal with social networking or geolocation data, although Senators Kerry and McCain have introduced a Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights. It addresses what same privacy advocates argue is the problem with permission: many consumers don’t know what’s being collected. Due to the lack of clear language from government, companies who turn to their lawyers for advice on user data usually get finite answers. Instead, lawyers offer case studies and best practices.

To learn more, check out Christina’s session at Web 2.0 Expo New York this week. Register with code BLG20 to save 20%.

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