Every morning, I look for some residual heat in the ashes of the stove. Often the ashes are a mixture of greys, whites, and blacks. There is no flames, not hint of fire, and it is void of life. However the moment I poke around in the ash, things change dramatically. The residual heat that has been lying there all the time comes to life. The ashes turn to oranges and reds, while heat radiates. And while the ashes do not burst into flame, when fresh wood and a bit of paper is added, flames burst onto the scene.
There is a sleepiness to ashes that is the same for data. When data lies around it has a similar sleepiness about it. However, when it is poked a little bit, it too can come to life. And similar to fire, it can be both harmful and helpful. Overtime, ash loses its heat and ‘fire power’ and no longer can generate fire (it’s still good to add to compost though!). Data is unlike like ash is this regard as the longer it sticks around the more harm it can (and does) cause.
This is one of the reasons the responsible data community talks of minimisation (collect only the data you need) and deletion (delete when done with the data). And it is why sharing data is a tricky subject. It is also why people are exploring how people, who the data is about, can become the point of interoperability rather than organisational systems.
Data and ashes may appear harmless, but a little poking around and we realise nothing is further from the truth.