In an increasingly data-centric world, we need to focus on the use of data, according to Scott Charney, corporate vice-president of trustworthy computing at Microsoft.
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"We need to focus on creating an environment that is more effective in controlling the use of data," Charney said.
At present, anything posted on the internet is beyond the control of the person who posted it.
"We have rather poor ways of managing data once it is out there; at best we can ask search engines not to find it," Charney said.
The lack of tools to control such data has been highlighted as a major technical hurdle to the "right to be forgotten" that the European Union is seeking to enshrine in its planned new data protection framework.
However, according to Charney, metadata put around data posted online could be linked to a rules service to enable greater control for users over their data.
For example, such an approach could enable internet users to post a photograph online, but with metadata linking to a rule that the image will be available only for the next year.
"But the next day, that individual could decide to kill that photo and could do that simply by changing the rule on a rule service that links to the metadata around the image," said Charney.
By creating a service to store rules by reference using metadata, rather than tying static rules to a piece of data, is a potential way of solving a basic privacy challenge the world is facing, he believes.
However, Charney acknowledges that such a system would take industry collaboration to set up and would ultimately be about managing or reducing risk, rather than eliminating it completely.
"That said, I believe the world of metadata will be very interesting in future," said Charney.