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Data Privacy is Dead

Is anyone else sick of the “Guard your data!” headlines that keep popping up in newsfeeds? Or that one friend that’s constantly harping on about how Facebook is spying on you? 

As if life wasn’t already full of anxiety-inducing headlines about climate change or economic downturns. Now, just adding to our modern list of existential crises, we're supposed to shield our digital footprints from unseen predators.

Has anyone ever wondered “why”? What’s the point in all of this privacy stuff anyway?  I have. And I have come to the conclusion that “Data Privacy” is all a ruse, designed to confuse us from a much more powerful conversation: Data Ownership. 


Pop quiz! When was the last time you actually read one of those GDPR notifications when visiting a website? Can’t remember? Join the club. 

Let’s be real: if it stands between us and that cheeseburger or the next chic dress in our online shopping cart, that banner doesn’t stand a chance. Click, accept, move on. That's the routine.

Why are we talking about “Privacy” then? 

Many companies have now gotten on the bandwagon of Data Privacy because it sounds good but does little. Talking about privacy is like being handed a manual to your iPhone. It’s complex, boring and nobody reads it. 

Now imagine shifting the narrative from data privacy to data ownership. Ownership implies value. Once I own something, if you take that away from me without my informed consent, that’s theft. That makes me pay attention. 

“Privacy” doesn’t attach value to your data.  But once you acknowledge the data's worth, the whole game changes. Direct conversations about data theft—or the unsanctioned use of our digital assets—become all too difficult to rationalize.

What Does Data Ownership Really Mean?

Let's say your data is like a backyard. You can either just lock the gate and keep everyone and everything out, or you can use that space, plant some seeds, and maybe even host a barbecue or two. 

Data ownership is the latter; it's not just about keeping others out—it's about using what's rightfully ours in ways that benefit us so that we can unlock its true value. 

Owning data might feel strange because it’s a bit abstract and intangible. But we’ve been owning and valuing intangible things for ages. 

Take money, for instance. It's just numbers on a screen, yet it holds power and significance. Let’s play with this analogy to discuss the three elements of Data Ownership: Consent, Portability, and Value. 

1. Consent

Consent means having a genuine understanding and giving unequivocal permission for how your data is employed. 

How would you feel if you went to the grocery store, someone flashed up a sign in fine print, and then stole your wallet and drained all your bank accounts? Later, they say that you agreed to give up your money. 

Sounds ridiculous, right? But that’s what we have allowed companies to do with our data.  We part with our data capital with far less regard than we do our financial capital because we have regulated for “Data Privacy”, not ownership. 

2. Portability

Portability is about having the freedom to easily shift your data from one platform or service to another.  

It's akin to being able to take your money around on a debit card. When you make a purchase, you expect to effortlessly transfer your funds in order to complete the exchange. If you aren’t happy with your bank, you can quite easily withdraw your money and deposit it in a better bank of your choosing. 

Contrast that with data. In order for me to get my data from Meta, I have to trawl through their settings to find where I can make a “request” and then wait up to 30 days for them to send me my data package. 

Let’s be real for a moment.  There is absolutely no way that it takes 30 days to gather my data.  There aren’t little data fairies mining Facebook for every mention of me.  There’s a script that can be run in a matter of seconds. 

Why 30-days? Because, that’s the requirement under most laws. Companies create as much friction as possible because they know your data is valuable and don’t want you sharing it with anyone else. 

Imagine if you went to buy ice cream and your bank told you that it would take them 30 days to transfer the money. They tell you that it’s because they like the value your money creates in their account, and don’t really want you to have that value so easily. Outrageous.

3. Value

Value is the idea that there’s no real point in owning something if it’s worthless. 

Up until recently, few people really knew what they could do with their data.  If you’re a nerd like me, you might get a kick out of analysing your data, but most people aren’t like me. Most people download their data and then ask, “So what now?”.

That question was answered a few months ago with the rise of generative AI. Using your data to create AI clones of yourself is not just sci-fi, it’s real.  

Vana’s app that lets you clone your face using Face VNA is just the starting point.  In months, we will start to be able to create AI that can clone our personality, voice, movements, and soon, our entire digital selves. 

Yes, it sounds surreal, and yes, a bit scary.  But ask yourself: is it more scary because the technology exists, or because it may exist in the hands of someone that isn’t you?  

Your data has more power and more value than ever before.  Whether or not you want to create a digital clone of yourself, you should be in control of that choice.  You should be in charge of the value your data creates. You should own your data. 

Owning Our Personal Data Together

In today's tech landscape, our data is as valuable as money. Entire companies are built on data capital and all of this AI that we’re so hyped up about wouldn’t exist without data. 

Not only are we in a world where each individual’s data is powerful, but as a collective, our data’s power and value are amplified. 

Data are the building blocks of AI. AI is essentially one big data-fed machine. By each of us owning our own data, we can come together, and build incredible things collectively for the advancement of each other. 

Imagine a world where, instead of being designed to push us ads for fidget spinners, AI could help us strategize against global challenges—like taking actionable steps towards addressing mental health, poverty, or even climate change.  

That world is upon us. It's no longer about privacy - no longer about guarding our data; it's about understanding data’s worth and reaping the benefits of it as individuals and as a community.

Closing Thoughts

The alarm bells for data privacy will continue to ring, and rightly so. But maybe, just maybe, it's time we shift our gaze. 

Let’s not just protect; let’s empower. As the technology continues to evolve, let’s ensure we’re not just passive passengers but the pilots of our data journey. Because true freedom in the digital age isn't about hiding; it's about owning, working together, and thriving.

Art A
Cofounder & COO

Art is the COO of Vana, a community cultivating understanding and autonomy of the digital self through experiential AI. Vana is creating a system for everyone to immerse themselves in their digital self and unleash their human potential.

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