Data, blockchain and “Privacy by Design”

The BABB project intersects with many interesting areas of thought. Here’s our Head of Comms, Annie, musing about data privacy on the blockchain, and BABB’s place in this shifting landscape.


People say a lot of things about data. You may have heard people describe data as “the oil of the 21st century” in reference to the fact that:

1. Data powers much of today’s digital economy; and
2. Data is really valuable.

Your personal data is a highly valuable asset, but the ability to keep it safe and benefit from this value is not always within your control. Violations of our data privacy— the inappropriate use of our data without consent — is something many of us are creeped out by. And rightly so, right?

The tricky thing is that, as prolific internet users, we do give our consent for apps, websites, banks and organisations to use vast amounts of our data. We do this without thinking: without knowing how they’re going to use it; where or how long they’re going to store it or even which data we’re giving access to.

Yes, violation of our data privacy is a problem, but not the main problem. Most of the time, the use of our data is both legal and appropriate. The real issue is our apathy and our ignorance — often, we don’t realise we’re giving permission, or what we’re giving our permission for, because it’s made very easy for us to ignore the details.

This is scary stuff.

We’ve all grown worryingly comfortable with giving away our data and not expecting much in return beyond free cat videos. Every one of us is constantly creating new data — taking photos, posting on social media, applying for credit cards, paying bills — and in doing so, we’re creating value.

This value creation process happens at an astonishing rate. It is estimated that by 2020, every person online will create 1.7 megabytes of new data per second. Per second. As online value creators, we are hyper-productive.

The problem is, having blithely consented to so many uses of all that data we’re generating, we have given up our rights and control to a degree we probably don’t even realise. Consider:

a) we don’t benefit from the value we create;
b) we’re vulnerable to security threats; and
c) our data can be bought by third parties who can use it to influence us

Concern about data privacy is often touted as a generational issue. It is assumed that tech-savvy young people want to use the internet and are happy to part with their data in return. On the flip side, we assume that older people are more wary and happy to forgo products or services they don’t trust.

I don’t think it’s that simple, though. Abstinence is not the answer. Anyone, old or young, should be able to go shopping, pay bills and post selfies to their heart’s content, and stay in control of their data.

The issue of data privacy is one of the deep, structural problems which we can fix using blockchain technology.

Privacy on the blockchain

In their awesome book Blockchain Revolution (the book that introduced me to blockchain for the first time, and caused me to fall utterly in love with it, all within ten frenzied hours of reading) Don and Alex Tapscott devote much of the opening chapter to discussing data privacy. Privacy is part of the point of blockchain, not a happily coincidental use case.

They say various wonderful things that have resonated with me ever since. Such as:

“Privacy is the foundation of free societies”.

Yes.

We can only freely share what is truly ours. In order to be independent citizens of the world, we need full ownership and control of our personal data and the data we create. This is one of the most transformative (but admittedly, least flashy) promises of a financial network built on a blockchain.

With a blockchain, you can create a system in which all data belongs to the user who created it, and only that user can decide which data to share and with whom. That puts the user back in control — they’re able to give explicit consent to third parties and receive perks or payment in exchange for sharing the data.

Privacy by Design

BABB employs blockchain technology, with a deep understanding of data protection laws and principles (including GDPR, which we will incorporate directly into our operations), to create privacy by design.

What do we mean by this?

BABB will decentralise data storage, so that each user has control of their own KYC and financial data and decides who has access to which data. All data is private, unless you choose to share it with another user.

Data protection will be implemented through various means of storage and encryption. These will be optimised to ensure security by default and presented in clear and obvious user interface.

Okay, but what does that mean?

It means that other users only have access to the data they need to use in order to complete an interaction. For example, you could permit mortgage brokers to see your credit history but not your gender or ethnic background,

In having ownership and control of your data, you have the power to give your explicit consent to its use and you can reap the rewards. We’re going to make this really clear and intuitive. Controlling your data will be a simple case of tapping a few buttons in the BABB app.

The future of data

New laws such as GDPR are coming to address the deluge of privacy issues ushered in by the digital revolution. Blockchain presents a way to reconcile our desire to engage online with these new privacy laws that give us power and control as data creators, but, like any technology, it’s agnostic.

It is up to a blockchain’s human creators to create products which employ decentralisation as a force for good, incorporating ethical design to promote freedom and empowerment. “Privacy by Design” is a legislative mandate under GDPR and something that BABB is embracing fully.

BABB is redesigning financial services to promote freedom and empowerment, with respect for user privacy at its core, and that’s a project that I’m very proud to be part of.


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