“Possession,” they say, “is nine-tenths of the Law.” This old saying is clearly passé, but in centuries past, a person in possession of something had the strongest legal claim to it, whether that something was a mansion or a mandolin. And that was because there were few records to attest otherwise.

Consider this: In medieval England the ownership of land was conveyed in “fee simple,” which, if you didn’t know, means “permanent and absolute tenure,” by what was called a “feoffment with livery of seisin.” The seller and the buyer (also known as the feoffer and feoffee) met on the land that was being conveyed and performed a quaint little ceremony in front of witnesses. The seller would give the buyer a little symbol of the land itself, like a twig or a pebble or a handful of dirt, and then swore orally that he was passing the land to the feoffee. Once the feoffee moved onto the land, he or she clearly possessed it.

This jolly process for transferring the ownership of land was, of course, replaced by deeds — written legal instruments, which were signed, sealed, and delivered. In England, that began during the seventeenth century. That may seem rather late in the day, but in truth it required an IT revolution for that to happen, and that IT revolution was printing.

Title is Data!

Printing made it possible to create many things: banknotes, standard letters of credit, company stock, standard title deeds, and so on. You may not think of them this way, but those financial instruments and deeds were just data — officially standardized data. Most of the things you possess of value right now are provably yours only by virtue of such official data — data created by the information technology that ruled the world before computers were invented.

Now, you may have thought that the 70 plus years of IT since the end of World War II had completely superseded all of that Gutenberg technology. If so, think again. We still have paper banknotes, paper letters of credit, paper stock and shares and paper title deeds.

But we won’t have much longer. Blockchain technology is going to sweep that all away. And it will do so because it will provide an inexpensive bullet-proof home for all of that valuable data. And it will also provide a bullet-proof home for all your valuable personal data.

You Own Your Data!

Let’s get this straight. There can be no real debate about it. If you asked anyone to vote on the matter, everyone would vote for personal data ownership. Right now personal data rights are not enshrined in US law, but they are in Europe — through General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). It’s only a matter of time before such regulation arrives on these shores. And we should welcome it.

You own a great deal of data. Not just your name and date of birth, but your location, your personal documents and credentials, your educational details and employment history, your financial information, your personal history, your health information, your titles (proofs of ownership), your memberships to various clubs, your digital possessions (photos, music and videos), your personal buying and selling history, your interests and preferences and all the personal digital tracks you leave when you interact with the web or use your phone.

This data is yours, and it is exploited in many ways by many organizations, from Google to the Government — none of whomever sought your permission to use it. And if the data wasn’t valuable, they wouldn’t harvest it as they do. Many very big businesses make a healthy living from it.

And that’s the whole thing in a nutshell. They get value from your data and so they should pay you for it. And guess what, at the moment businesses are happy to pay anywhere between $1-$2 to force one of those annoying ads under your nose. (Go ask Facebook and Google).

So what if a company (check out Algebraix.io) were to build an application that paid you to watch ads? What if it helped you manage and tailor your digital profile to optimize what you could earn from ads? What if it securely stored all your data and gave you complete control over it? Such an application is being built right now.

And Another Thing…

And there’s another thing. We are moving to a world where everything of value is recorded digitally, and your digital identity will be your means of proving that indeed it is you who own those digital records and those digital records will prove that indeed it is you who own your various possessions.

Your digital identity is going to become nine-tenths of the law.