Data Done Right: How Data Sharing Can Help Us All

We’re in an era where our digital footprint is huge. Our connected devices generate a mass of data, from our geographical location and purchasing habits to our level of personal fitness and hours of sleep. The reality is that personal data is becoming a hot commodity, invaluable to health insurers, marketers and a plethora of third party companies.

It’s time for developers and consumers alike to think critically about the value of personal data. This includes us at nexpaq. A number of our modules will collect personal data including those created by our community of third-party developers who will use our technology to make their own custom modules. Those modular devices that checks your blood sugar levels each day or your blood alcohol readings contain valuable data. Can it be shared to your benefit? Read on to find out how.

Your data is already shared with your knowledge or consent…. You just forgot the terms or did not read them.

A report released in February this year examined 8 different wearables and found that all except for the Apple Watch wirelessly emit a persistent unique identifier over Bluetooth. This unique identifier enables third parties, such as shopping centres or others interested in location-based monitoring, to collect and map out people’s movements over time. The research also found that two tracking applications exhibit vulnerabilities enabling third parties to access user data.

In Europe the makers of RunKeeper are in hot water for breaching data protection law. This is because the popular running app was found to track its users’ location all the time — not just when the app is active — and sent that data to advertisers.

In 2012, German politician Malte Spitz sued to have German telecoms giant Deutsche Telekom hand over six months of his phone data. As a consequence he received 35,830 lines of code — a detailed, nearly minute-by-minute account of half a year of his life revealing just how much of his digital life was being tracked. You can check out his data here to get an idea how thoroughly his life was recorded.

The reality is that you are probably sharing your personal data without even thinking about it. Free networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all operate with the notion that the more information your provide to the site, the greater your experience will be. This may include personal information, income, gender, occupation, things you like and dislike, personality info and a host of other information.

Can data sharing be beneficial?

Research suggests that many people are willing to share their personal data with others in exchange for benefits. In a 2012 survey by Price, Waterhouse and Coopers, 80% of survey respondents were willing to share information if the company informs them upfront about how it will be used.

This corresponds with the sharing of wearables data in exchange for health insurance discounts, a common practice in many large US workplaces including Target and BPAmerica. Health insurance companies have been collecting personal data on individuals through wearables devices for a number of years, often in collaboration with employer wellness programs. In return for this data, people receive discounts in their health insurance, gym memberships or other benefits. There are even health insurance programs that track what food people purchase and often discounts for healthy food shopping.

There is also a reasonable cohort of people that consent to sharing the information gleaned from their digital footprints to aid medical research, contributing to the greater good of medical knowledge and patient care.

Sell your own data!

Some start-ups are capitalising on the idea that your digital footprint equates to sellable user data, establishing platforms which facilitate citizens selling their data to third parties.

One company working in this space is, a start up that utilizes “groundbreaking technology” that allows consumers to collate and share their digital data on their own terms with businesses in a mutually beneficial value exchange. They secured $6.1m from Series A funding in June this year which they will use to accelerate the development and launch of its unique permissioned access platform, “which will soon let users bring together wide-ranging data such as health and financial information and share it — if they wish — with businesses in exchange for personalised services, convenience or reward”.

The company consider themselves part of a movement they call “the internet of me” and believe that under the current personal data model, “none of us own our information which is scattered across the web in fragments, subject to loss, not available when we need it or ever in any complete form. We all add to our online data everyday, creating more partial slices held by an ever increasing number of companies, but yet this mass of information about us, created by us, is not working for us in any way”.

Another example is Datacoup who have since 2012, invited users to connect their digital accounts to their platform (e.g., twitter, instagram). Account connections are then established using the account authorization APIs (oAuth). Once accounts are connected, the company builds a profile that provides an overview of your data for potential data purchasers. Every data attribute has a high, medium or low value given to it. This value is determined by the current demand in the data marketplace for that attribute. The price for your data is the sum of all your active attributes. They anticipate these values to fluctuate and increase as the marketplace grows and matures.

The challenges here however, are that both and Datacoup are competing in a market where data brokers can access detailed digital information on people for nothing. What is the incentive for marketing companies to pay people for their data when they can get it for free? Datacoup

Personal data offers a unique opportunity for citizen data

It’s possible that, with time, large groups of individuals who utilize particular IoT devices will be able to act as a collective force and donate, barter or even sell their data in exchange for goods and services or community benefits. Beyond medical research and advertising, our digital footprints have a unique opportunity to provide governments and consumer organisations with important data to assist in town and city planning.

An example of this is through information collected by Tanktaler, an IoT device created by German company ThinxNet which enables drivers of older cars to get a range of information about their cars (akin to what those driving a smart car enjoy). The device has the potential to track large groups of drivers throughout concentrated areas and thus is able to measure the popularity of driving routes and determine weak spots where a road needs to be repaired or there’s a spot with high rates of accidents.

This could potentially include information for smart city planners such as where to situate traffic lights and how to control them with the help of real time data to get a smooth flow of traffic. It can also help developers determine where gas stations should be built according to traffic flow

Underpinning these benefits is the notion of personal “sovereignty” over personal data. According to Tanktaler,
“Right now most car manufacturers are collecting data without drivers being aware of it and trying to earn money out of it. We believe that drivers should own their data and decide what to do with it, according to what will directly benefit them”.

Modular devices such as those that measure air quality (including those we are developing for the nexpaq smartphone case) have the opportunity to create pollution maps within cities and are an important tool in documenting and leveraging health and environmental data to inform public policy.

If it all seems quite farfetched, take a moment to consider the possible data that could (if permitted) be generate through the trajectory of Pokemon Go players around public spaces. What would it reveal and who could benefit? Players’ privacy is secure for now, but this could also be a missed opportunity that developers will be more keen to embrace in the future.

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This article first appeared on the nexpaq blog 12th August. You can read more entries here.

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