Personal vs impersonal uses of data about people

In describing the Person Data Commons we are talking about “data about people and their engagement with the world”.

Sometimes a distinction is attempted between “personal” and “non-personal” kinds of data, but this is artificial; it is more helpful to think of personal and impersonal uses of data about people. In other words, it’s better to think of data about people and their engagement with the world in terms of the purpose it is being used for, rather than the subject of the data itself.

There are plenty of non-personal uses for data about people. I can analyse groups of people and not target them individually. This is a non-personal use of data about people. I could analyse that same data to target an individual with a service. That would be a personal use of data about people – including data about this particular identifiable person.

So, thinking about this data in terms of its use, rather than the kind of data:

  • Personal use of data means using a person’s data to target them specifically with a product or service, or create a bespoke solution forthem based upon what is known about them. Personal uses are where analysts want to know some aspect of My Story to do something with that.

  • Impersonal use: when data about people is used non-personally, it is used in an anonymised way to learn about a population and make decisions at a higher level. So it is Our Story – the story is about a group of people and analysts want to understand their story and do something with that information.

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