Yesterday at the Honda dealer’s service desk I found myself in an all-too-familiar situation, craning my head for a glimpse of a screenful of data that I paid for but do not own. Well, that’s not quite true. I do have a degraded form of the data: printouts of work orders. But I don’t have it in a useful form that would enable me to compute the ownership cost of my car, or share its maintenance history with owners of similar cars so we can know which repairs have been normal or abnormal.

Although we tend to focus on the portability of our health care data, the same principles apply to all kinds of service providers. And in many of those cases, we would be less concerned about the privacy of the data.

Why, then, don’t service providers and their customers co-own this data? Is it because providers want to keep high-quality electronic data, while only dispensing low-quality paper data, in order to make their services stickier? It would make a certain kind of sense for Honda to think that way, but I don’t think that’s the answer. Instead:

1. Nobody asks for the data.

2. There’s no convenient way to provide it.

We’ll get over the first hurdle as our cultural expectations evolve. Today it would be weird to find an OData URL printed on your paid work order. In a few years, I hope, that will be normal.

We’ll get over the second hurdle as service providers begin to colonize the cloud. One of the key points I tried to make in a recent interview about cloud computing is that cloud-based services can flip a crucial default setting. If you want to export access to data stored in today’s point-of-sale and back-end systems, you have to swim upstream. But when those systems are cloud-based, you can go with the flow. The data in those systems can still be held closely. But when you’re asked to share it, the request is much easier to satisfy.