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Craig Mundie. (Microsoft file photo)
Craig Mundie. (Microsoft file photo)

It’s inevitable that companies will collect an array of data about people and their online activities. So rather than trying to prevent that data collection from happening, consumers should instead be given the ultimate control over how data is used.

That’s the contention of a recent report from the World Economic Forum’s Rethinking Personal Data initiative. In many ways it’s a blueprint for how Microsoft wants online privacy to evolve. One of the members of the steering committee for the report was Craig Mundie, the longtime Microsoft executive who now serves as senior adviser to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

One of the report’s recommendations is to use “personal data vaults” that would “empower individuals with their data, allowing them to aggregate, store, find, securely share and get value from data about them and their lives.”

Microsoft is in a unique position on this topic compared with some other tech giants, such as Facebook and Google, which count much more heavily on advertising revenue. The targeting of ads today relies significantly on the tracking of users’ web activities. The Redmond company has also found itself at odds with the ad industry over its decision to activate the “Do Not Track” feature in Internet Explore 10 by default.

Mundie talked with reporters about Microsoft’s views on the topic during an event this week on the Microsoft campus. Here’s a portion of his remarks.

We concluded that from a policy and even a technology point of view, the current model around privacy can’t survive. … You’re just observed from so many quarters. … Even if I told you all the things that somebody had, could you possibly know how they would be aggregated? Our view is no, you can’t.

What we’ve been advocating for, and we’re working on now around the world with data regulators and others, is to develop a new model, which is based on controlling usage, not controlling collection and retention of the data. When you ask somebody, “Do you like this or not like this?” it’s always a usage question. Not, “Was it bad that I had the data?” Not really, it’s only bad that you did that thing to me.

We’re going to try to move our products in a direction where people are ultimately given a choice to permit or not permit a use, as opposed to trying to permit or not permit the existence of data, which we think is out of their control now. We’re very active in this with the policy people from around the world, and we’re really trying to think, how would we enlist the computer’s help in administering such a model, and we think we know how to do that. Now we have to get the consumer and ultimately the regulator to agree that that is going to be the new way.

So do you agree? Does this sound better or worse than the system today?

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